Published: Jan 26, 2012 5:25 PM EST
Updated: Jan 26, 2012 7:21 PM EST

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - President Barack Obama's popularity among Florida voters appears on the upswing as Republican candidates fight it out in hopes of a victory Tuesday that would propel them closer to their party's nomination.
    
Obama's standing with Florida voters improved in Quinnipiac (Conn.) University's latest poll released Thursday. The survey indicates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would be the only Republican who could mount a strong general election challenge in the nation's largest swing state if the election were held now.
    
A random telephone sampling of 1,518 registered voters by Quinnipiac University between Jan. 19-23 showed Obama and Romney each favored by 45 percent in a November matchup. Independent voters were virtually split evenly as well.
    
Romney led Obama 47-40 on Sept. 2 and had a slight 46-43 advantage in a Quinnipiac poll just 15 days ago.
    
The president fared better with women and minorities while Romney was stronger with whites and men. Both were in single digits in the other's political party. Obama was seen favorably by 49 percent compared to 48 percent unfavorable. Obama was favored 56 percent to 34 percent among Hispanics, an important voting bloc in Florida.
    
The voters told Quinnipiac that Obama was more inspiring, would do better in a crisis and cares more about them than Romney, who is locked in a close battle with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Tuesday's presidential preference primary in Florida. The voters, by a 50-41 margin, said they believed Romney would do a better job than Obama in handling the economy.
    
Obama reached 50 percent support against Gingrich, who received 39 percent in that hypothetical matchup. The poll had Obama winning over former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum a 49-40 margin and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul 47-39.
    
Half of the Florida voters said they had a negative impression of Gingrich, including 56 percent of the key independent voters.
    
"The fact that a big majority of Florida independents have an unfavorable view of Gingrich is an indication of the steep hill he must climb to win in November," assistant polling director Peter Brown said.
    
The survey, a snapshot of voter feelings at the time, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

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