No candidate for president since 1960 has won an election without carrying Ohio. Obama captured the state by four points in 2008, 51 to 47 percent, over Sen. John McCain.
Polls show Obama is in a close race with Romney in Ohio, leading him 48 to 42 percent in an NBC/Marist poll from mid-May but neck and neck, 45 to 44 percent, in a Quinnipiac University poll in the state just a week earlier.
Some Democrats, pointing to recent focus groups and polling data, worried publicly this week that Obama's pitch on progress in the economy isn't resonating with voters in key states, leaving him politically vulnerable and at risk of appearing out of touch. There are also concerns in some circles that attacks on Romney's record in private equity and as governor are not sticking well enough.
White House and campaign officials insist that their game plan is working and will succeed over the long haul. They frequently note the president has high public opinion ratings on empathy with Americans who are struggling financially. And they say he has presented detailed legislative proposals that would immediately put more workers back on the job.
"The problem here isn't the president's campaign staff and message he's put together, it's the economy that he inherited and is working hard to fix," said former White House aide and senior Priorities USA strategist Bill Burton.
"Some of the brightest minds in politics work for President Obama. They won a historic election, guided through groundbreaking legislation, and are aware of the stiff political head winds that the president faces right now," Burton said. "I have no doubt they will endure more criticism, but that's just because that's what Democrats do. We complain -- loudly and frequently. I'd be worried if it weren't happening."
With chances slim that the nation's economic picture will improve dramatically by November, strategists say Obama must more forcefully convince voters that Romney is an unacceptable alternative in the Oval Office, regardless of their personal financial situations.
Still, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll found the president faces deep skepticism about his economic plans less than five months before election day. Fifty-four percent of swing-voting independents see Obama's economic plans negatively, with just 38 percent holding a positive view.
Romney also has a negative rating on his economic plans, but by a smaller margin -- 47 to 35 -- with more undecided voters. The dynamic affords Romney an opening to make his case and win support in the weeks ahead.
Overall, Americans respond negatively rather than positively to Obama's economic proposals by 50-43 percent, and to Romney's by 47-37 percent. The poll, conducted June 6-10, has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
"What can they say, what can he do? Congress won't pass anything that he puts out there; the House will barely consider it. They're not going to help Obama. They're delighted he's in the situation he's in," said Larry Sabato, a political analyst and director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, of Obama's economic plans.
White House allies and veterans of Democratic presidential campaigns insist there is no reason for panic and still plenty of time for Obama to make his case.
"If this was a baseball game, the Obama team would still be winning by a couple runs in the fifth inning," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network and member of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign team, citing electoral map and recent polling data in swing states. "And they may have not scored more runs in the fifth, but they're still winning the game."