As the jabs between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich grew harsher, many prominent Republicans wondered if the ugly turn the GOP race was taking would hurt the Republican candidate in the general election.
Based on a new poll, they could be onto something.
The president leads Mitt Romney 51 percent to 45 percent, based on a new poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News. This is not only the first time President Obama has led in this poll, but the first time either candidate has had a majority in a hypothetical general election matchup.
Obama's job approval rating rose in the poll to its highest level in Washington Post/ABC polls since just after Osama bin Laden was killed. About 50 percent approve of the job he is doing as president.
Obama's gains in the new poll come as Romney's grip on the GOP nomination is strengthening, with a commanding victory in Florida, followed by an easy win in Nevada. While rival Newt Gingrich insists the pendulum will swing back in his favor once the Southern states start voting in March, a sense of inevitability is once again swirling around Romney's campaign.
The poll also found that the more voters get to know Romney, the more they dislike him. But that is even more true for Gingrich.
By about 2 to 1, respondents said they disapprove of Romney as they get to know him but Gingrich has 3 to 1 disapproving.
The Romney campaign said Monday said the former Massachusetts governor's numbers were unfairly depressed because the poll used flawed questioning.
The results of the Obama-Romney matchup are "clearly tainted by the questions asked immediately prior to the ballot, resulting in what some would call a "pushed" ballot. A pollster can't ask or suggest specific negatives on a candidate immediately prior to a ballot test and expect to get anything other than a biased result," said Neil Newhouse, a well-known Republican pollster working for the Romney campaign.