Latest Polls Show Obama Leading in Key States as Pivotal Debate Looms

A barrage of new ads aims to convince the few remaining undecided voters.

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With five days left before a pivotal first debate between President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, a series of new polls shows the White House incumbent with the lead in key states that could decide the election.

The polls late Thursday come as the rival campaigns have launched yet another salvo of television advertisements aimed at appealing to middle class voters, especially undecideds who will determine who wins.

[Read: Obama extends lead in more key states.]

Obama leads Romney by 2 percentage points in Virginia, 46 percent to 44 percent, according to a Suffolk University poll released late Thursday. The president also leads Romney in New Hampshire, 51 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, according to a new NBC News/Marist/Wall Street Journal poll released late Thursday as well. The same poll shows Obama up in Nevada, 49 percent to Romney's 47 percent, and in North Carolina, Obama leads 48 percent to 46 percent. Both the Nevada and North Carolina results are within the survey's margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

"Barack Obama shows personal popularity and strength, especially outside of the D.C. area in northern Virginia," said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, in a memo accompanying the Virginia poll results. "However, with job approval and head-to-head numbers stuck at 46 percent, it will be a significant challenge for Obama to convince the remaining undecided voters to re-elect him."

[Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

To that end, the Obama campaign launched a two-minute campaign commercial on Thursday laying out his case for re-election in New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado, all crucial battleground states.

"This is actually something you often see a week or two before the election, a closing argument," says Leonard Steinhorn, public communications professor at American University, of the Obama ad. "His whole point is this is not a point where we judge how we got the car out of the ditch, it's about the fact that we're on the road again, now we have to keep going forward."

The Romney campaign also launched new advertisements this week, hoping to double-down on concerns voters have about Obama's handling of the economy.

[Read: Obama campaign on offense, avoids tough Mideast questions.]

"He's trying to make himself and his policies seem less hard hearted than that 47 percent video," says Steinhorn, referring to remarks Romney made at a private fundraiser in May that were recently made public. Romney said that 47 percent of all voters would vote for Obama no matter what, as well as claiming they were voters who paid nothing in income taxes, words that reinforced a caricature of Romney as a soulless businessman that the Obama campaign has tried to paint.

"That's hard to sell, because this is an ad and the 47 percent was reality TV," says Steinhorn. "So [Romney] has his work to do and you can see how subtly they are trying to answer that and at the same time wrap themselves in a plan."

Danny Hayes, political science professor at George Washington University, says the campaigns have done a good job of using their advertisements to lay out their case to the public.

"For Obama, it's framing this as, 'I have done what I can and I have plans to do more,' he says. "For Romney, it's 'Obama has done what he can and it's not been successful and somebody else needs a chance to try and improve the economy.'"

The campaign pressure continues to mount, thanks to the close poll numbers, ahead of next Wednesday's presidential debate, the first time Obama and Romney will square off.

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.

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