Rick Santorum gives a thumbs-up after speaking Saturday at the Lincoln-Reagan… (Mario Tama / Getty Images )
It's a dead heat between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in Ohio, one of the biggest delegate prizes of the 10 states voting on Super Tuesday, according to a new NBC News/Marist Poll.
Santorum leads Romney 34% to 32% among likely Republican primary voters, with Newt Gingrich (15%) and Ron Paul (13%) in the back of the pack.
Eleven percent of voters said they might change their vote by primary day on Tuesday. On the question of voters' second choice, Romney, Santorum and Gingrich were essentially tied.
Once again, Romney's strength lies in the question of electability. Fifty-seven percent of likely voters said it was more important that the Republican nominee be able to beat President Obama, while 36% said it was more important that he be a true conservative. Fifty-three percent said Romney was the candidate with the best chance of beating Obama. Thirty-five percent said Santorum was the "true conservative" in the race, while only 11% said that of Romney.
Only half of the likely GOP voters surveyed said they were satisfied with the current field of candidates; 46% said they would like to see someone else run.
Ohioans are evenly split when it comes to Obama's job performance -- 45% approve and 45% disapprove. But the president would easily carry the key swing state and take its 18 electoral votes. He leads Romney 50% to 38%, Gingrich 51% to 36%, Paul 48% to 38%, and Santorum 50% to 36%.
Even if Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was Romney's running mate, the Democratic ticket would win 49% to 38%.
Obama also had the advantage in Virginia, where he led Romney 52% to 35%. Romney is the clear leader in that state's Republican primary, leading Paul 69% to 26% among likely voters. No other candidate is on the ballot there.
The Ohio poll was conducted from Feb. 29 to March 2. The sample of 820 Republican primary voters had a margin of error of 3.4%.