Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has taken the lead over President Obama in the swing state of North Carolina, according to a new poll, in what could be an electoral canary in the coal mine for the incumbent Democrat's campaign.
Romney, who had trailed Obama in a similar survey in April, now tops him 48 percent to 46 percent, according to Public Policy Polling.
"Romney's erased what was a 51 to 38 lead for Obama with independents and taken a 42 to 41 lead with that voting group," writes Tom Jensen, PPP's polling director, in a statement accompanying the survey results. "He's also increased his share of the Democratic vote from 15 percent to 20 percent, suggesting he's convincing some more conservative voters within the party to cross over."
It's possible the president's recent statement of support for gay marriage has impacted his popularity in the state, which recently voted handily in support of a constitutional amendment banning it. Since Obama's announcement, his campaign has played up his support for it and the president has courted gay donors at fundraising events in California.
Romney has also benefitted from increased support from conservatives who have now rallied around his candidacy.
"The Tar Heel State's swing towards Romney comes as the almost certain Republican nominee has been solidified as the party's best hope to defeat Obama in the general election," said a PPP press release. "Romney has seen his favorability rating increase 12 points since main primary competitor Rick Santorum left the presidential race in April."
But the momentum may also be swinging Romney's way because the voters have not been impressed with the case being made by the Obama campaign, which has launched advertising depicting Romney as a cold-hearted corporate raider.
With just less than six months to go before the election and many voters not yet paying close attention to the contest, there's still plenty of time for both campaigns to tweak messages they feel are not working.
But as Jensen pointed out, there's no doubt North Carolina, a state Obama narrowly won in 2008, will again have one of the closest margins in 2012.
"The bottom line on this poll is the same as pretty much every one we've done in the state over the last 18 months--North Carolina is one of the most closely contested toss up states in the country," he wrote. "It could go either way and the way the campaigns are spending here backs up that assessment."
The poll surveyed 810 North Carolina voters from June 7-10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent.
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.