(CBS News) With just 42 days until Election Day, Republican nominee Mitt Romney heads to Ohio today to kick off a middle-class bus tour - a move aimed at building support in a state many believe is crucial for him to win this November.
It's a task, however, that has taken on increased prominence in recent days. A handful of new polls show President Obama leading Romney in the state. Most notably, perhaps, is a new Washington Post poll out of Ohio, which shows Mr. Obama leading Romney 52 percent to 44 percent - an eight-point advantage.
That's a greater spread than most other polls have shown, but it's demonstrative of a trend that appears to be emerging in several other surveys as well: Polls released in the last two weeks by the Ohio Newspaper Organization, Fox News, and NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College all show Mr. Obama with between a 4- and 7-point edge.
"I don't know how Romney wins this without Ohio or Florida, and Florida's not looking that great either," said Allen Melamed, a Democratic strategist based out of Ohio. "It'll be interesting to see if this trend continues."
No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio, and several polls show Romney trailing Mr. Obama in the crucial battleground states of Florida and Virginia as well.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Romney political director Rich Beeson brushed off the importance of the recent Ohio polls, saying that the campaign relies on internal data -- not public surveys.
"We used a specific set of data for our primaries. Each week we would go in, and you know, we'd be 10 or 11 down... whether it was Ohio or Michigan or Wisconsin," Beeson said. "We relied on our internal data. We knew where each day at any given point. That's the same thing we're doing now."
"The public polls are what the public polls are," Beeson added. "I kinda hope the Obama campaign is basing their campaign on what the public polls say. We don't. We have confidence in our data and our metrics."
This afternoon, Romney heads to Vandalia, Ohio, near Dayton, in an effort to reverse the recent momentum. After joining running mate Paul Ryan for the bus tour and a rally, he'll make stops in Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo on Wednesday. He'll also hold a rally in Westerville with golf legend Jack Nicklaus, and then join Discovery Channel host Mike Rowe for a "manufacturing round table" in Bedford Heights.
"There is a ton of energy in Ohio," affirmed Matthew Henderson, a spokesperson for the Ohio Republican Party, who said he was "absolutely" confident Romney could win the state. Henderson said Republicans have made 28 times the phone calls to voters as in 2008, and that "we had over 136,000 volunteers knock on doors across the state" in the past week.
"We're six weeks out today and the effort is continuing to grow," he said.
But Bob Clegg, a Republican strategist based out of Ohio, says that if the current numbers hold up through October, Romney could be in trouble.
"I think if there is any kind of an Obama lead right now it's probably due to the aftereffect of the convention and the effect of the advertising he's been doing in Ohio," Clegg said. But, he says, "if we get into early October and mid-October and the president is above 50 support, then I think we're going to have real problems here."
According to Clegg, who specializes in advertising, the Romney campaign has been at a disadvantage in that department for months. The Romney campaign doesn't make public information about its ad buys, but Clegg said the president's campaign has been out-advertising Romney by a 3- or 4-to-1 advantage.
"Romney hasn't had a full statewide media campaign up and running yet," Clegg said, while the president's re-election campaign has been "flooding the airwaves" - including the smaller markets, which he said the Romney campaign has only recently started to broach - since June.
"It's the non-incumbent problem," he said, referencing a rule that mandates a presidential campaign can't use money raised for the general election until after the party's nominating convention. "When you're not the incumbent you don't have the money to spend pre-convention."
Melamed also argues that Mr. Obama has benefited from the narrative surrounding the bailout of the auto industry - which ranks second in the nation for motor vehicle production. Romney has defended his opposition to the bailout, and blaming the bailout for job losses in Ohio, but Melamed pointed to Romney's stance on the issue as evidence that "Once a candidate has to go through explaining what his position means, he's in trouble."
"I think the Romney advocating allowing the auto industry to go bankrupt and the president's bailout have been huge," Melamed said, estimating that about one in eight jobs in Ohio is tied to the automotive industry in some way. "Coupled with that I think is just the kind of flat performance at the convention compared to the Democratic convention. Bill Clinton is still hugely popular in Ohio, and I think his performance really helped motivate and consolidate the Democratic base."
If that's true, then, the president's post-convention Ohio bounce could well fall flat before the election.
"A lot of this is just going to be structural change," said Clegg, of the bounce. "Romney's just got to come here, talk to people, ramp up their advertising, and just do what he's doing... I wouldn't be surprised if in the next week or so - after the debate - we saw the polls back to what they were a month ago here."
And if it doesn't?
"Hope the other guy makes a mistake," advises Melamed.