He also faced push back from prominent conservatives over his criticism of Obama after the violence in Egypt and Libya.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Maristpoll shows Romney trailing Obama by at least five point in Florida, Virginia and Ohio.
In Florida, which has 29 electoral votes — up from 27 in 2008 — Obama has a five-point lead among likely voters and an eight-point lead among registered voters.
Romney is expected to visit the Sunshine State for high-dollar fundraisers and campaign events next week.
In Ohio, where Romney will hold campaign events Friday, Obama has a clear edge for that state’s 18 electoral votes — 50 percent of likely voters back the president and 43 percent support Romney. Obama’s job approval rating among likely voters is also 50 percent, although an equal share of voters say the country is heading in the wrong direction.
The share of undecided voters in the Buckeye State is 6 percent, according to the poll.
“This is an electorate that pretty much is now all about, from the campaign standpoint, mobilization. Persuasion is going to take a second seat right now,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, in an interview with NBC News. “This is about getting your base out, not about appealing to a shrinking middle.”
Since 1944, Ohio has gone with the winner of the presidential election every year except 1960.
Obama and Vice President Biden have lavished attention on Ohio, visiting frequently and emphasizing what they view as the success of the auto bailout and Obama’s role in the state’s lowered unemployment rate — 8.6 percent in January 2009 and 7.2 percent now.
Romney’s path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency is much steeper than Obama’s. The former Massachusetts governor must win two of these three battleground states; Obama can win just one and keep the White House with victories out West.
Obama has a lead in Virginia, which he won in 2008, and where the unemployment rate is lower than the national average. Romney launched an ad blitz last week in the state, highlighting possible cuts to defense spending that would be enacted under a deal reached last summer by the White House and Congress that was designed to force action on the deficit.
Rather than expanding the map to states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, Romney’s field of play seems to be shrinking. His campaign had hoped that his Michigan roots would play well in that state, but a new poll shows him lagging by 10 points there.
Romney has tried to score points over the situation in the Middle East, with aides suggesting that the wave of deadly protests would not have happened if Romney were at the helm.
Yet Republicans say Romney must lay out a clearer vision of what he would do in the White House if he is to make inroads on foreign policy, an area where Obama has a double-digit lead.
“Romney has a serious opportunity to emotionally connect with Americans who are concerned about our national security. Without agreeing with the administration, he can still praise the current actions of the military and the State Department handling the crisis, while loudly demanding that countries around the world provide the necessary protection around our embassies,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist. “He may also have to deliver a serious foreign policy speech that would make him look presidential and less in campaign mode.”