Fueled by women and independents, President Barack Obama holds a four-point lead over Mitt Romney in Virginia, according to the latest NBC News-Marist poll. But the gap has narrowed substantially since the end of the Republican primary.
Obama leads Romney 48-44 percent in the poll, which was conducted May 17-20. That’s down from the whopping 52-35 percent lead Obama held over Romney in March, during the heart of the GOP primary.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell makes little difference on the ticket. The Republican, rumored to be on Romney’s short list for vice president, only cuts into the margin by two points (46-44 percent).
Obama continues to enjoy a solid approval rating, 49-45 percent, but that has also narrowed from March, when it was a 12-point spread (51-39 percent).
Obama leads by 10 points with women (51-41 percent) in a state that has had its share of fights over women’s rights in the last six months. And he holds a six-point edge with independents (47-41 percent).
Independents are always important, but they look to be even more crucial this year, because Democrats and Republicans appear locked in. Nine-in-10 Democrats and Republicans said they backed their party’s candidate.
Romney has something of an image problem. Mirroring national polls, more people viewed Romney negatively (44 percent) than positively (41 percent). Obama, on the other hand, was viewed positively (52 percent positive, 44 percent negative).
But Obama is still vulnerable on the economy. Voters are split on who they think is best-equipped to handle the most important issue of the election (46 percent said Obama, 45 percent said Romney).
Additionally, Virginians have gotten more pessimistic on the direction of the country. In March, 44 percent said they thought the nation was headed in the right direction. Today, just 38 percent said so.
Kaine Leads Allen
In the U.S. Senate race, Tim Kaine (D) leads George Allen (R) by six points, 49-43 percent. In March, Kaine led by nine.
Republicans likely need to win the open seat to wrest control of the Senate. Sen. Jim Webb (D) is retiring.
Domenico Montanaro is NBC News' Deputy Political Editor and an NBC News First Read analyst. Read the national edition of First Read featuring Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Domenico on msnbc.com.