A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday suggests former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is actually more popular in Pennsylvania than Santorum, who is best known for his cultural conservative credentials. Santorum trailed in both a primary matchup against Romney (16 percent to 21 percent) and a general election matchup against Obama (38 percent to 49 percent).
Romney has troubles of his own back home.
He convinced a majority of Massachusetts voters to elect him governor in 2002, winning just 50 percent of the vote and defeating his Democratic rival by 5 points. Romney served one term and did not seek re-election in 2006, having already taken steps to launch his first bid for the White House. His campaign knows that he's likely never to win over the majority of Massachusetts voters again.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said it's a "very challenging state for any Republican presidential candidate," given it's "one of the bluest states in the country."
"It's no small miracle for any Republican to win statewide in Massachusetts," Williams said.
Ronald Reagan was the last GOP presidential nominee to capture the Bay State in a general election. And Obama won there by 26 points in 2008.
There have been various Republican governors in recent decades, but nearly all of them — Romney included — were elected in lower-turnout nonpresidential years.
Polling released this month by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling shows just 40 percent of Massachusetts voters have a favorable opinion of their former governor. Obama led Romney by 20 points — 57 percent to 37 percent — in a general election matchup.
But the numbers offer Romney a glimmer of good news.
Romney "actually" has good numbers with independents (52 percent to 39 percent favorability spread), "a decent amount" of popularity with Democrats (19 percent), and a GOP base that likes him (74 percent to 21 percent), PPP pollster Tom Jensen wrote in an analysis to go along with the poll.
"But there are just too many Democrats in the electorate for all of that to add up to good numbers overall," Jensen wrote.
Sutton thinks Minnesota could be a different story in 2012.
"I know history is not on our side," the GOP chairman said. "I'm convinced this is the year we break that streak."
That streak? It's been 39 years since Minnesota voters last supported a Republican for president — Richard Nixon in 1972.
Sutton credited Walter Mondale's position on the ticket in 1976, 1980 and 1984 for the long trend of Democratic wins.
But the hometown advantage that boosted Mondale doesn't appear to be helping Tim Pawlenty or Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Pawlenty, who left the governor's office just five months ago, is best positioned among 2012 contenders to carry Minnesota. But that's not saying much.
PPP found this month that Pawlenty trailed Obama in a general election matchup 51 percent to 43 percent. Bachmann, a three-term Minnesota Congresswoman and tea party favorite, fared far worse. She lagged behind Obama by 21 points — 56 percent to 35 percent.
Sutton still believes a shifting political landscape in Minnesota presents an "opportunity" for the GOP next fall.
Recent polling suggests there is no chance for Christie to win the Garden State, should he change his mind and decide to run for president, as some national Republicans hope.