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As primary war wages, Romney's support with independents dips

In a warning sign for Mitt Romney that the long GOP primary fight may be hurting his image with the general electorate, the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that independent voters have sharply soured on the Republican frontrunner in the last month.

In fact, Romney’s negative ratings with independents have jumped 13 points since December.

Last month, Romney’s favorable/unfavorable split with independents was 21 percent to 29 percent. In November, 22 percent of indies viewed him in a negative light compared to 21 percent who gave him a thumbs up in the NBC/WSJ poll.

But in the latest poll, released last week, Romney’s positive score was essentially unchanged at 22%. His negative score, however, jumped to 42 percent with independents, his highest recorded negative rating in the poll with the crucial voting bloc.

The cause could be the race's recent tough rhetoric and widely-viewed debates since the early voting contests began in Iowa and New Hampshire at the beginning of this year. The GOP race has come into sharper focus for a wider electorate, curious about the candidates – and wondering who will emerge to face President Barack Obama in an election year in which the country’s economic situation is uncertain.

Since the last poll was conducted, Romney won, then lost Iowa narrowly; he won decidedly in New Hampshire then lost decisively in South Carolina; and there have been eight nationally televised debates, including two in the run up to this contentious GOP primary fight in Florida.

Romney seems on track to win by a solid margin in Florida tomorrow, but as Marist polling Director Lee Miringoff said, "If Romney locks up the nomination any time soon, he's going to have to pivot quickly to win back independents."