Barack Obama won an upset victory in Virginia in 2008, and many people believe he has no chance to win it again in 2012 with his approval ratings so low. But a new Quinnipiac University poll shows that Obama's position is stronger than one might think.

The poll found that, in a hypothetical general-election matchup, Mitt Romney would beat Obama, 44 percent to 42 percent -- a statistical tie -- and Newt Gingrich would lose to Obama, 46 percent to 41 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Interestingly, Gingrich outpolls Romney among Republican primary voters in Virginia, 30 percent to 25 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent -- but Romney does significantly better among the independent voters who decide close elections.

Gingrich jumps into the lead among Virginia Republicans, but ... Romney's calling card is still that he seems to have a better chance of actually winning the White House if nominated, Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a statement announcing the poll results.

Gingrich and Romney are the clear front-runners for the Virginia primary at this point. Ron Paul came in a distant third in the Quinnipiac poll with 9 percent, followed by Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry with 6 percent each, Jon Huntsman with 4 percent and Rick Santorum with 3 percent. There is still plenty of time for the race to shift, though, as the primary is not until March 6.

In general elections, Virginia has traditionally leant strongly toward Republican candidates. In fact, when Obama won in 2008, it was the first time a Democrat had carried the state since Lyndon B. Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Obama's 2008 victory was widely seen as a confluence of extraordinary circumstances, including George W. Bush's unpopularity and an energetic, change-based grassroots campaign that inspired even many Republicans. He no longer has the change message going for him, nor the novelty that he had four years ago, and that has clearly created a more difficult stage for him in Virginia, but it is noteworthy that he remains competitive there.

The Quinnipiac poll of 1,135 registered voters (489 Republicans) was conducted from Dec. 13-19 and included both land lines and cell phones.