President Obama has moved ahead of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Virginia for the first time in Quinnipiac University’s polling, according to a survey released Wednesday.
Mr. Obama leads Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, 47 percent to 43 percent in the latest Quinnipiac poll of the crucial swing state. The same survey in December showed Mr. Romney leading the president, 44 percent to 42 percent.
“The Obama bump could be driven by the perception that the economy is improving,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poling Institute. “And, the nasty GOP primary fight is not helping Romney, exposing swing voters to lots of negative attacks on him from within his own party.”
The state’s closely watched U.S. Senate race remains a statistical dead heat, with Democrat Tim Kaine leading Republican George Allen 45 percent to 44 percent. Mr. Kaine did hold a slight 44 percent to 40 percent advantage among independent voters.
“Kaine’s standing in the Senate race will almost certainly be tied to Virginia’s view of the president,” said Mr. Brown. “Politics is a team game and when the captain of the blue team improves his standing, the rest of the team also benefits.”
In Virginia’s Republican presidential primary, Mr. Romney still holds a commanding lead over Texas Rep. Ron Paul, 68 percent to 19 percent. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who beat Mr. Romney Tuesday night in contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, did not qualify for the ballot in Virginia. Neither did former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
Mr. Obama’s surge appears to come largely from independent and female voters. Independents now back the president 45 percent to 41 percent, compared to a 41-41 percent split in December, and women prefer Mr. Obama by a 52 percent to 40 percent margin, compared to a 45 percent to 43 percent advantage for Mr. Romney in December.
Indeed, Mr. Romney’s unfavorability ratings have jumped sharply since the December 21 poll, where he had a 37-27 favorable/unfavorable split among all registered voters. The poll released Wednesday showed that tightening up to a 43-39 split. 50 percent of registered voters had a favorable opinion of Mr. Obama, compared to 47 percent who had an unfavorable one, up from a 45-47 percent split in December.
The president holds wider leads over the rest of the GOP field: 51 percent-37 percent over Newt Gingrich, 49 percent-41 percent over Rick Santorum, and 47 percent-40 percent over Ron Paul.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has begun making the national television rounds to tout Mr. Romney since endorsing him before the South Carolina primary, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is serving as his state campaign chairman. If those two candidates were, in fact on the ballot,
The poll did not ask about any of the other candidates in the race. Mr. Allen faces Tea Party Leader Jamie Radtke, Delegate Robert G. Marshall of Prince William, Hampton Roads lawyer David McCormick, and Chesapeake Bishop E.W. Jackson in the Republican primary. Mr. Kaine faces Northern Virginia consultant Courtney Lynch and Reston businessman Julien Modica in the Democratic primary.
Quinnipiac surveyed 1,544 registered voters from Feb. 1-6, with a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, with live interviewers calling both land lines and cell phones. The Republican primary results include 546 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percent.
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