Trace Nystrom, 6, of Knoxville, holds up a sign and cheers with the crowd… (Gerald Herbert / Associated…)
Mitt Romney seems to be riding into Super Tuesday with the "Big Mo," though a new national poll shows the extent to which the bruising nomination battle has hurt the GOP.
The former Massachusetts governor had as good a weekend as one could have, especially on the eve of voting in 10 states that control more than 400 convention delegates. Romney was the winner of caucuses in Washington, and scored endorsements from the second-ranking Republican in the House, Eric Cantor, and a leading budget hawk in the Senate, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Both represent Super Tuesday states.
A Quinnipiac University survey released this morning in the key Super Tuesday prize of Ohio now shows Romney has pulled ahead of Rick Santorum, 34% to 31%. A week earlier, Santorum led Romney 36% to 29%. Romney is campaigning in Ohio on Monday.
Nationally, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that Romney is at his strongest standing to date: He leads Santorum 38% to 32%. The last poll in late January actually had Newt Gingrich ahead with 37% to Romney's 28%.
But at that point the good news ends for Romney and the GOP. Forty percent of all respondents, including 23% of Republicans, say they now have a less favorable opinion of the Republican Party because of the nominating process. Just 12%, including 16% of Republicans, have a more favorable view of the party.
According to NBC's Mark Murray, 70% of Republicans offered a negative comment when asked to describe the primary fight with one word or phrase. Examples included "discouraged," "painful," "poor choices," "concerned," "uninspiring," and "lesser of two evils."
The combination of that bitter GOP fight and improved economic news is boosting President Obama. His approval rating has hit 50%, the highest since last May after the death of Osama bin Laden.
More Americans also say they believe the economy will get better in the next 12 months -- 40%, up from 37% last month. Thirty-five percent say the economy will stay about the same, down from 44%, and 23% say it will get worse, up from 17%.
In a hypothetical general election matchup, Obama leads Romney 50% to 44%, about even with the 49% to 43% advantage he had in January.
Romney also has a net-negative favorability rating, with 28% viewing him positively and 39% negatively. At the same point in 2008, John McCain's rating was 47% positive, 27% negative.