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Obama faces new electoral vote worries in key states

President Obama faces new warning signs in a once-promising Southern state and typically Democratic-voting Midwestern states roughly five months before the election even as he benefits nationally from encouraging economic news.

Obama's new worries about North Carolina and Wisconsin offer opportunities for Republican Mitt Romney, who must peel off states Obama won in 2008 if he's to cobble together the 270 electoral votes needed to oust the incumbent in November.

Iowa, which kicked off the campaign in January, is now expected to be tight to the finish, while New Mexico, thought early to be pivotal, seems to be drifting into Democratic territory.

If the election were today, Obama would likely win 247 electoral votes to Romney's 206, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Seven states, offering a combined 85 electoral votes, are viewed as too close to give either candidate a meaningful advantage: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia.

"As of today, the advantage still lies with the president, but there is a long and hard road ahead in this election," said Tad Devine, who was a top strategist to Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and John F. Kerry but isn't directly involved in this year's race.

If Romney wins all the states Republican John McCain carried in 2008 plus North Carolina, as trends today suggest he would, he would still need 64 electoral votes to hit the magic number. That would require him to win a majority of the states that are up for grabs.

Obama, on the other hand, faces the costly and labor-intensive challenge of defending those states in a much different environment than the one he enjoyed four years ago.

North Carolina is a case in point.

Obama announced his support for gay marriage on May 9, one day after 60 percent of North Carolina voters approved a constitutional ban. "That issue definitely hurts him down there," said veteran Republican presidential campaign strategist Charlie Black, a top aide to 2008 nominee McCain. North Carolina's high African American and young voter population, keys to Obama's 2008 wins there, give him the edge, aides say. And the president so far has spent heavily there, $2.7 million on television, according to reports provided to the AP.

But Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue gave Republicans an opening by not seeking re-election this year. And union leaders, a key Democratic constituency, are upset that this summer's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., is being held in a state where union rights are weak.

In Wisconsin, embattled Republican Gov. Scott Walker's improving fortunes as a contentious June 5 recall election approaches could alter that state's landscape. Walker, who sparked mass protests by signing anti-union legislation last year, has pulled narrowly ahead of Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in recent polls.

If Walker survives, Romney aides say they have a real chance to carry Wisconsin, which no Republican has done since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Indeed, the Wisconsin recall could signal a GOP shift in an arc of states from Iowa to Pennsylvania that have reliably voted Democratic in presidential elections for a generation.

"Whether Walker wins or doesn't is going to be a big indicator of how Wisconsin goes, and how the whole upper Midwest goes," said Iowa's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.