Pennsylvania Republicans favor former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for their presidential nominee, but President Obama leads both Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum in hypothetical general election match-ups, according to a poll released Wednesday.
Santorum, who was Pennsylvania's junior senator for 12 years, would come in second if the state's GOP presidential primary took place today, according to the Quinnipiac University poll. Santorum, who owns a house in Penn Hills, drew 16 percent of Republicans' support, to Romney's 21 percent. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin drew 11 percent support.
The poll was conducted June 7-12, ending a day before the Republican debate in New Hampshire. It surveyed 523 registered Republicans, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
"The fact that (Santorum) and Romney are close to being in a statistical dead heat is encouraging," said Santorum communications director John Brabender. Romney ran for president three years ago but Santorum hasn't run for anything since 2006, Brabender said.
Sen. Bob Casey Jr., who beat Santorum by 17.4 percentage points in 2006, has a job approval rating of 47 percent among all registered voters. The poll surveyed 1,277 registered voters, with a margin of error of 2.7 percentage points. Forty-seven percent said Casey deserves re-election.
"Sen. Casey has a solid record of fighting for Pennsylvania families, and the people of Pennsylvania roundly approve of his work," said Mark Nicastre, state Democratic Party spokesman. Casey declined comment.
In a hypothetical match-up against an unnamed Republican, Casey wins 47 percent to 32 percent. Ten percent said it depends on the candidate Republicans field.
Republican officials said Casey would lose ground when they have a candidate who can link him to Obama's handling of the economy, an area where voters typically give the president his lowest marks.
"Republicans will offer pro-growth alternatives next year, and as our campaigns develop, we are confident Pennsylvanians will hold both Barack Obama and Bob Casey accountable for their failed record," said Michael Barley, executive director of the state Republican Party.
The poll matched Romney and Santorum against Obama in hypothetical races, and found Obama beat Romney by seven percentage points and Santorum by 11 percentage points.
Romney's campaign declined to comment on the poll, but spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the election would turn on the economy -- an area where "Obama has done a terrible job," she said.
"On the other hand, Mitt Romney has unique understanding of the economy from 25 years in the private sector and has made restoring American competitiveness and growing our economy to create good jobs the central goals of his campaign," Saul said.
The poll found Obama's job approval rating split at 48 percent, compared with his 42 percent approval and 53 percent disapproval rates found by the institute's April 28 survey.
Much of that swing came from independent voters, 48 percent of whom approve of the job he's doing. Forty-seven percent disapprove. That's up from 37 percent approving and 56 percent disapproving in the April 28 poll.
"It's encouraging (for Republicans) that a sitting president in a state with 1.5 million more registered Democratic voters can't even crack 50 percent," Brabender said.
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