Nationwide, Newt Gingrich has opened a nine-point lead over Mitt Romney among Republican voters—but the former House speaker's negatives remain high with independents and Democrats, making Romney a stronger candidate head-to-head against President Obama, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Gingrich beats Romney among Republicans 37% to 28%, but that's down from his 40% to 23% lead in last month's poll. Rick Santorum currently has 18% support, and Ron Paul 12%.
As the US economy appears to improve, public sentiment toward the president is also climbing, with approval outstripping disapproval 48% to 46%—the first time it has been positive since June. Obama out-polls a generic Republican candidate 47% to 42%, his strongest margin in seven months. Obama also beats Romney by 49% to 43%, and Gingrich by a whopping 55% to 37%. "Republicans better bring their 'A' game to the election, because they cannot depend on a negative, crushing environment to win," said a Republican who conducted the poll. (Read more GOP candidates stories.)