Romney opens up 7-point lead over Obama, as electoral map begins to shift

Mitt Romney's national lead over President Obama grew even more Thursday, with the latest Gallup survey showing the Republican nominee up 7 points -- as polling in the battlegrounds indicates the electoral map may be shifting in Romney's favor.

In a significant development, the RealClearPolitics electoral map, which offers predictions of which states favor which candidates, for the first time is showing Romney ahead in terms of electoral votes he is likely to win on Nov. 6.

Obama had a big advantage over Romney for months in those projections. But in the past few weeks, states thought to favor Obama like New Hampshire and Pennsylvania were moved into the "toss-up" column. Meanwhile, RCP just moved North Carolina from "toss up" to "leans Romney." The projections -- while subject to change any time of any day -- show Romney with a likely 206 electoral votes and Obama with 201. That leaves another 131 electoral votes up for grabs in the battlegrounds.

The projection challenges the narrative that the electoral map inherently favors Obama because it contains so many reliably Democratic states. The race is starting to look much more competitive, both in swing state and national polls.

The national Gallup survey, which is based on a seven-day rolling average and was updated Thursday, showed Romney leading 52-45 percent. At the start of October, he was tied with Obama at 48 percent each.

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The poll measures likely voters, with the latest results spanning interviews from Oct. 11-17. The results would have just started to factor in voters' views following the second presidential debate, which was held Tuesday.

Romney's lead on Thursday grew from 6 points a day earlier, which was already his biggest lead of the race. His numbers have been on the rise on the heels of the first debate, a trend that was apparently not blunted by Vice President Biden's aggressive debate performance one week ago.

Though presidential elections are decided in the battlegrounds, the new national numbers surely raise warning signs for the Obama team. Historical polling results show that the candidate who's up three weeks before Election Day has typically gone on to win -- though past polls were conducted of registered voters, not likely voters, which is now considered more reliable. The only candidate in modern times who came from behind three weeks before the election to win was Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The RealClearPolitics average of polls has the 2012 race much closer, with Romney's lead at less than half a point. In some of the key battlegrounds, Romney has also either drawn closer to Obama or surpassed him. The RCP average of polls in Ohio shows Obama up by a little over 2 points, with the average in Florida showing Romney up by the same margin.

Though the president pulled off a notably more assertive performance at Tuesday's debate in New York, Romney said Wednesday in Virginia he loves squaring off with the president.

"Now I have to be honest with you, I love these debates. These things are great," Romney said. "I think it's interesting that the president still doesn't have an agenda for a second term. Don't you think that it's time for him to finally put together a vision of what he'd do in the next four years if he were elected? I mean he's got to come up with that over this weekend because there's only one debate left on Monday."

But Obama says he does have a plan to make the country better by 2016 -- it just involves a different approach than Romney's.

"We cannot grow this economy from the top down. We grow it from the middle out," Obama said Wednesday.

Obama's post-debate message, though, has focused largely on Romney. The attacks he road-tested at Tuesday's debate resurfaced on the stump Wednesday -- including a line about how Romney's "five-point" economic plan is really just a "one-point plan ... (that) says folks at the very top play by their own set of rules."

With just 19 days to go, the candidates are fanned out in swing states across the country. Obama was in New Hampshire Thursday morning for a campaign stop -- before taping an appearance on the Daily Show. Both candidates will speak Thursday night in New York at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.

Paul Ryan, meanwhile, was in Florida for rallies while Vice President Biden was campaigning Thursday afternoon in Las Vegas.

Fox News' Peter Doocy contributed to this report.