New polls of South Carolina and Florida hint that the GOP’s chances of taking the White House are evaporating as Barack Obama leads both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in each state.
The biggest surprise is in the new NBC/Marist poll of South Carolina, where Obama’s approval rating is a not too upside down for a reliable red state 44%/48%. The big shock is that President Obama has small leads over both Newt Gingrich (46%-42%), and Mitt Romney (45%-42%). Both of Obama’s narrow leads are outside the poll’s 2.1% margin of error. A new Winthrop poll has also found that President Obama is more popular that Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. The Winthrop Poll gives Obama nearly identical to NBC 44.8% approval rating, and only 34.6% approve of Gov. Haley.
Gingrich is absolutely destroying Romney in South Carolina among likely primary voters 42%-23%. Newt Gingrich leads Mitt Romney 51%-20% among tea partiers. Romney’s biggest problem in the state is that Republicans are more interested in a candidate who shares their values (29%), and is close to them on the issues (26%) than one that can beat Obama (20%). By a margin of 61%-53% Republicans found Gingrich more acceptable than Romney, and 44% of Republicans believed that Romney was acceptable with reservations or not acceptable at all. Only 26% of likely primary voters considered Romney a conservative.
In Florida, Obama has seen his approval rating jump five points since October. It is within the margin of error, but more voters now approve of Obama than disapprove (46%-45%). Obama now leads Romney by seven points, (48%-41%), and Gingrich by 12 points in the Sunshine State, (51%-39%). Newt Gingrich is blowing out Romney in Florida for the same reasons that he is trouncing him in South Carolina. Florida Republicans said that it was more important to them that a candidate shared their values (26%) and is close to them on the issues (28%) than can beat Obama (23%).
Gingrich also holds a commanding lead over Romney among tea partiers, (57%-22%). Among likely GOP primary voters, 58% found Mitt Romney to be an acceptable candidate, but 28% felt that he was acceptable with reservations 10% felt that he was not acceptable at all. Sixty five percent of likely GOP primary voters found Newt Gingrich acceptable. Only 20% felt that he was acceptable with reservations and 11% believed that he was not acceptable.
Within the Republican Party what is happening is a repeat of the 2010 election. GOP primary voters in South Carolina and Florida are more concerned with shared values and positions than they are with electability. Mitt Romney’s entire campaign is built around the theme of being able to defeat Obama, but Republican voters would rather lose with someone who they feel shares their values than potentially win with Mitt Romney. The difference between Gingrich and Romney is that Newt knows how to woo the base. In two separate presidential campaigns, Romney has not been able to ease doubts about his conservative cred. It is a pretty safe bet that those doubts are never going to go away.
Obama’s popularity is improving even in places like South Carolina because of his focus on creating jobs and the economy. While the Republican nomination has turned into an ideological spitting contest over who can cut the most taxes and be the most extreme conservative, Obama has been talking about the economy and creating jobs every single day for months now.
The jobs message is powerful, and Republicans have turned the issue over to Obama by promising to create jobs by following the same failed policies of George W. Bush. In a bad economy, a platform of tax cuts for the rich and more trickle down is not what voters want to hear. They want the government to do something, and Obama is the only candidate who has offered any real solutions.
It would be a miracle if Obama won South Carolina, but the combination of bad candidates and even worse message has made President Obama the favorite as we head into 2012. As long as Obama keeps hammering the jobs message and the economy keeps improving his polling and approval ratings will go up, and Republicans will see their dream of making Barack Obama a one term president shattered.