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He may have underwhelming approval numbers in the Sunshine State, but President Barack Obama’s best chance at winning Florida’s horde of electoral votes in 2012 could be Sarah Palin.
The former Alaska Governor trails Obama by “a stunning 14-point margin” — 52 percent to 38 percent, in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup released this morning by Public Policy Polling. The left-leaning pollster noted that a Democrat hasn’t won Florida by such a wide margin since 1948, when Harry Truman won by 15 points. The presidential race in the Sunshine State, of course, carries tremendous downballot implications for the re-election bid of Sen. Bill Nelson (D), not to mention the 25 Congressional seats that now exist and the two additional seats that will be created as a result of population growth.
Democrats said the increase is largely attributed to more Hispanic voters, who generally side with them, although the effects of redistricting won’t be known until the new districts are shaped.
The new seats mean that Florida carries greater significance in presidential politics. Florida will move into a tie with New York (which is losing two seats) in 2012 for the third-largest pool of electoral votes at 29. A state's electoral votes are determined by adding its Congressional seats and Senate seats.
PPP tested a series of hypothetical presidential matchups among 1,034 Florida voters from Dec. 17 to 20. The margin of error was 3 points. While no Republican has formally announced at this point, Palin is largely believed to be weighing a bid for the nation’s top elected post.
Part of Palin's problem in Florida, pollster Tom Jensen writes in his blog, is tepid support from Republicans; she gets only 63 percent of her own party's vote. But her greatest shortfall is with independent voters. She trails Obama by 41 points — 67 percent to 26 percent — among the key voting bloc.
“We've had a lot of polls show that Palin would be a disaster for the GOP but this might be the starkest evidence of it yet,” Jensen writes.
And while he enjoys his largest lead over Palin, Obama also leads in hypothetical matchups with several other prospective GOP candidates. The tightest race is with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who trails Obama by just 2 points, 46 percent to 44 percent.
Curious about other matchups?
While just 45 percent of Florida voters approve of Obama’s job performance, he had a 49 percent to 44 percent edge over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; led 47 percent to 42 percent against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and had an 8-point lead over recently elected conservative favorite Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), 48 percent to 40 percent.
PPP did not test matchups with other potential candidates, such as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Thune (S.D.) or Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, among others.
For more from our At the Races politics blog, click here.