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NBC News/Marist poll: Santorum, Romney neck and neck in Ohio

 

Two days until Super Tuesday and the pivotal Ohio Republican presidential primary, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are running neck and neck in the Buckeye State, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll conducted Feb. 29 - March 2.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, gets the support of 34 percent of likely GOP primary voters, and Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, gets 32 percent.


 They’re followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 15 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 13 percent.

"Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory takes a look at a new NBC/Marist College poll that found that a significant number of Republican voters are not pleased with their party's frontrunners for the presidential nomination.

Full Results (.pdf): Ohio | Virginia

“I just think it’s going to very close,” Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, says of the Santorum-Romney race in the state.

That contest in Ohio – one of 11 on Super Tuesday – is significant for both Romney and Santorum. A Romney win, following his victories last week in Michigan and Arizona, would cement his front-runner status and keep him on his path (no matter how rocky it’s been) toward capturing the GOP presidential nomination.

But a Santorum win would signal that his close second-place finish in Romney’s native state of Michigan wasn’t a fluke, and it would likely ensure that this Republican nomination battle remains competitive — perhaps through April and maybe even June.

In Ohio, a majority of likely GOP primary voters view Romney as the Republican candidate with the best chance of defeating President Obama in November. And a plurality sees Santorum as the true conservative in the field and as the candidate who best understands their problems.

What’s more, Santorum performs better with the most conservative voters (Tea Party supporters, evangelical Christians, those describing themselves as “very conservative”), while Romney does better with more moderate voters and those who aren’t Tea Party supporters.

Yet by a 57 to 36 percent margin, these likely GOP primary voters prefer electability over ideology.

If Santorum holds an advantage in Ohio, it’s that Romney isn’t running up a large lead with early or absentee voters, like he did in Arizona and Michigan. Among the 11 percent who have voted early in the Buckeye State, according to the poll, Romney leads by four points, 39 to 35 percent.

Romney holds sizable lead in Virginia

A separate NBC/Marist of Virginia – another Super Tuesday state – shows Romney with a sizable lead over Ron Paul among likely GOP primary voters, 69 to 26 percent.

Romney and Paul are the only two Republican presidential candidates who qualified for the ballot in Virginia.

But Romney would have a smaller lead in a hypothetical matchup featuring the other two candidates. Romney would place at 36 percent, followed by Santorum at 28 percent, Gingrich at 15 percent and Paul at 13 percent.

In both Ohio and Virginia, a substantial number of Republican primary voters are unsatisfied with the current field of GOP presidential candidates.

In Ohio, 51 percent say they’re satisfied with the current crop of candidates, while 46 percent would like to see someone else run. In Virginia, 47 percent say they’re satisfied, while 50 percent would like to see others get into the race.

“This is a very unhappy Republican electorate,” Miringoff says. 

Obama has the early general-election edge in both states

And that’s reflected in the head-to-head match ups for the general election in these two important battleground states.

In Ohio – where President Obama’s approval rating stands at 45 percent – he leads Paul by 10 points among registered voters (48 to 38 percent), Romney by 12 points (50 to 38 percent), Santorum by 14 (50 to 36 percent) and Gingrich by 15 (51 to 36 percent).

In Virginia – where his approval rating is 51 percent – his leads are even bigger: 17 points over Romney (52 to 35 percent), 21 points over Paul (53 to 32 percent), 22 points over Santorum (54 to 32 percent) and 26 over Gingrich (57 to 31 percent).

What’s occurring in both states, Miringoff explains, is that Obama is reaching the percentages he won in 2008 – 51 percent in Ohio, 53 percent in Virginia – while Republican voters so far have failed to coalesce around their candidates.

The NBC News/Marist poll of Ohio was conducted from Feb. 29 - March 2 of 3,079 registered voters (which has a margin of error of plus-minus 1.8 percentage points) and 820 likely GOP primary voters (plus-minus 3.4 percentage points).

The NBC/Marist poll of Virginia was conducted from Feb. 29 - March 2 of 2,518 registered voters (plus-minus 2.0 percentage points) and 529 likely GOP primary voters (plus-minus 4.3 percentage points.