The Washington Times - September 15, 2011, 08:34AM

President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have sunk in recent months in Virginia – a swing state that will be crucial for his re-election chances next year – according to a new poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University.

40 percent of Virginia voters approve of the job Mr. Obama is doing, with 54 percent disapproving – down from a 48-48 split in a June survey. Voters, by a 51-41 percent margin, also say that Mr. Obama does not deserve reelection, compared to a 47-47 split from the June poll.

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Among independents, who were crucial in helping Mr. Obama in 2008 become the first Democrat to carry the state in more than 40 years, voters disapprove 62-29 percent, compared to a 54-41 disapproval split in June.

In line with other polls, however, the president’s numbers in match-ups against potential GOP contenders appear to be outpacing his approval ratings. Obama leads Texas Gov. Rick Perry 44-42, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads Obama by the same margin. Both are within the margin of error.

Mr. Obama enjoyed healthier leads in potential match-ups against Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, at 48-37, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — who has not yet declared her candidacy – at 50-35.

Meanwhile, Mr. Perry enjoyed a 25-19 lead over Mr. Romney in a potential Republican primary match-up in the state, with Ms. Bachmann at 5 percent, according to the poll. In a two-man match-up, Mr. Perry leads Mr. Romney 43-36. No other GOP candidate broke into double digits.

“Rick Perry’s campaign sees carrying the South in the nomination race as critical and the data from the Capital of the Confederacy gives him reason to be optimistic,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Both sides have made it clear that Virginia will be a key battleground state next year. Mr. Obama traveled to Richmond on Friday to pitch his jobs plan, and Mr. Perry delivered speeches at Liberty University in Lynchburg and at a Republican Party of Virginia fundraiser in Richmond on Tuesday.

In addition, the closely watched race for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb that will likely pit former Virginia Govs. George Allen, Republican, and Tim Kaine, Democrat, against one another remains a dead heat. Mr. Allen held a 45-44 lead over Mr. Kaine, statistically unchanged from June, when Mr. Kaine led 43-42. Mr. Kaine did hold a slight 42-40 advantage over Mr. Allen among independent voters in the poll, which did not ask about any other specific candidate.

From September 7 - 12, Quinnipiac surveyed 1,368 registered voters with a margin of error of 2.7 percentage points. The Republican primary includes 591 voters with a margin of error of  percent.