George Allen and Tim Kaine are locked in a dead heat 17 months before Election Day in what may be one of the most high-profile Senate races in the nation next year, according to a poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University.

Democrat Kaine received the support of 43 percent of registered voters, while Republican Allen received 42 percent in the battle to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D).

Independent voters, often the deciding factor in elections in Virginia, favor Allen, a former U.S. senator, over Kaine, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, by a margin of 46 percent to 38 percent.

“Perhaps the only surprising thing about these numbers, given the expectation of a ‘to the finish’ tussle for the Senate, is that one in 10 Virginia voters remains undecided,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Those are the folks who will decide the identity of Virginia’s next U.S. senator.”

The senate race will hinge on next year’s presidential race in Virginia. President Obama was the first Democrat to carry the state in more than four decades.

The poll showed Obama with a 48 percent approval rating in Virginia and garnering the support of 43 percent of registered voters against an unnamed Republican challenger, who received 41 percent. Voters split 47 percent to 47 percent on whether Obama deserves re-election.

Three in four Virginians -- 74 percent -- say they like the president personally. But when voters were asked if they liked most of his policies, that overwhelming margin drops to a split, 47 percent to 48 percent.

“President Barack Obama’s great strength looking toward re-election in Virginia, as in many states, is that voters like him personally by an overwhelming margin,’’ Brown said. “The Republicans must make this election about his policies if they are to prevail in 2012.’’

The Quinnipiac poll also questioned voters about the current pair of Virginia senators — Webb, whose announcement in February that he would not run for reelection opened the door to next year’s high-profile Senate race, and Mark R. Warner (D), who faces re-election in 2014.

Fifty seven percent of registered voters approve of the way Warner is handling his job. Twenty nine percent disapprove. The popular former governor has seen his numbers drop in polls since moving from Richmond, where he persuaded a GOP-led legislature to adopt a budget that made record investments in education, public safety and health care by imposing higher sales and cigarette taxes.

Fifty percent of registered voters approve of the way Webb is handling his job, while 31 percent disapprove.

The Quinnipiac poll, conducted by live interviewers with registered voters on land lines and cell phones, releases periodic voter surveys of office holders, candidates and issues nationally and in Connecticut, New York, New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. This week, it added Virginia, increasingly considered a swing state, to its mix. Results released Wednesday focused on state issues, including the approval rating of Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,434 registered voters June 21 – 27. There is a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.