Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at an RV dealer in Colorado (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

The Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows Obama’s disapproval rating still sits at 49 percent. Forty-six percent of those polled say he does not deserve to be re-elected.

But Obama’s numbers have improved since a December poll. Crucial independent voters back the president over Romney 45 percent to 41 percent. Woman favor Obama 52 percent to 40 percent, while men back Romney 47 percent to 43 percent.

“For the first time since Quinnipiac University began polling Virginia voters on the race, President Barack Obama holds a razor-thin lead over Gov. Mitt Romney,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “The keys are the president’s improved standing among independent voters and women in the Old Dominion.”

Obama, the first Democratic president to win Virginia in 44 years, is trying to repeat his victory. He has campaign offices and staffers across the state, including in Northern Virginia.

The president leads former House speaker Newt Gingrich, 51 percent to 37 percent; former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum 49 percent to 41 percent; and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) 47 percent to 40 percent.

Only Romney and Paul will appear on the Virginia ballot during the March 6 primary, because others could not meet the state’s signature requirements.

A day after Santorum swept a trio of states, the poll shows Romney holds a commanding lead over Paul among Virginia Republicans--68 percent to 19 percent--in the race for the nomination.

In December, Gingrich had a slight lead over Romney. In previous months, former candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Hermain Cain had topped the list.

Former governor Tim Kaine, left, and former senator George Allen, right, greet each other at the Capitol in Richmond, (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The race to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Webb is expected to be one of the most competitive in the nation, and could help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

“Kaine’s standing in the Senate race will almost certainly be tied to Virginia’s view of the president,” Brown said. “Politics is a team game, and when the captain of the blue team improves his standing, the rest of the team also benefits.”

The poll did not include the other Republicans and Democrats vying for their parties’ Senate nomination. In addition to Allen, Del. Bob Marshall (Prince William), lawyer David McCormick, Bishop E.W. Jackson and tea party activist Jamie Rad­tke are competing in the Republican primary. Julien Modica, a health-care company executive, and Courtney Lynch, founding partner of a consulting firm — are running in the Democratic primary.

In September, a Quinnipiac poll showed Allen at 45 percent and Kaine at 44 percent in Virginia. In October, another poll showed Allen had 44 percent and Kaine 45 percent. In December, a poll showed Allen had 44 percent and Kaine 42 percent. All the results are well within the polls’ margin of error.

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 in Connecticut, New York, New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Last year, it added Virginia, increasingly considered a swing election state.

Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,544 registered voters Feb. 1-6. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. To gauge the Romney-Paul matchup, pollsters surveyed 546 likely GOP primary voters, with a margin of error of 4.2 percent.

On Thursday, the university will release the second part of its poll.

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