Obama’s rating slips below Romney’s as US petrol prices soar

Republican candidates battled hard ahead of today’s key deep South votes as a poll said front-runner Mitt Romney would beat Democrat President Barack Obama if elections were held right now.

A national poll by ABC News and The Washington Post for the first time gave the former Massachusetts governor the edge against Obama, hurt by anger over rising petrol prices.

If elections were held today, Romney would beat Obama 49% to 47%, the poll revealed, adding thatObama’s approval rating has plunged below 50% as he bids for a second term in the November vote.

The poll also showed rising national support for Romney’s main rival, Rick Santorum, suggesting that the president would only narrowly win against him by 49% to 46%.

Romney is relentlessly racking up the delegates towards the magic number of 1,144 needed for the party’s nomination. So far he has just over a third in his haul, with Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailing.

Amid calls to quit and allow the conservative vote to coalesce around one candidate, Gingrich is fighting to stay in the race to be the Republican to challenge Obama.

He has said that today’s primaries in Alabama and Mississippi are must-wins after pocketing just two of the 26 contests held so far.

But polls suggested a very tight three-way race in both states.

The status of the Republican race differs depending on whom you ask: Romney says it is over, Santorum says it’s now a two-horse race between him and Romney, while Gingrich says wait for today’s results.

“Mathematically, this thing is about over, but emotionally it’s not,” senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said.

“If Romney does well, wins either Mississippi or Alabama and wins Illinois [on Mar 20], then I think it’s virtually impossible for this thing to continue beyond early May,” Graham added.

Romney announced he had picked up some key endorsements in Alabama, saying voters were looking for a change of direction in Washington.

“President Obama has grown government at the expense of the private sector,” he said. “I will shrink government and expand the private sector.”

The stakes could not be higher today for Gingrich, who must sweep both Mississippi and Alabama if he is to change the narrative of the race in his favour.

Public Policy Polling said it “looks like it is going to be a close election night in both Mississippi and Alabama.”

“It’s not really clear who, if anyone has the momentum in these states,” it said.

According to PPP, Gingrich held a lead in Mississippi with 33% over 31% for Romney, with Santorum on 27%. In Alabama, the race is closer, with 31% for Romney, 30% for Gingrich, and 29% for Santorum.

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