POLL OF THE DAY: BIG TROUBLE For Santorum

rick santorum frownYikes.

Photo: AP

Suddenly, Rick Santorum’s one “gimme” state over the next month — his home state of Pennsylvania — is slipping away. In the latest sign of trouble for the former Pennsylvania Senator, a new poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College has his lead slipping to just two points over Mitt Romney in the state’s Republican primary race. It could be the latest sign that his campaign is running out of steam and the Republican establishment could soon give way to Romney as the GOP’s nominee.

Let’s go back to February. Santorum enjoyed a comfortable — eye-popping, even — 29-point lead in a Pennsylvania poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall. He garnered 45 per cent of the vote, while Romney picked up just 16 per cent of support. Pennsylvania votes April 24.

Compare that to the most recent results, from 505 registered Republican voters. Santorum: 30 per cent. Romney: 28 per cent. This is getting ugly for Santorum–quickly. 

“He even loses if he wins,” G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall poll, said in a phone interview. “Or if he doesn’t win by a big enough plurality.”

But here’s the key footnote: The race remains unprecedentedly wide open. 20-two per cent of voters said they didn’t know who they were going to vote for. 

Santorum did, of course, lose a landslide election in a bid for re-election as Senator in 2006. But Romney won in his “home” state of Michigan and easily in Massachusetts, where he served as Governor. A loss for Santorum in his home state would be “pretty unprecedented,” Madonna said. 

Romney has cut DIRECTLY into Santorum's voting base

Romney has cut into Santorum's lead by taking away the voters that supported him in the February poll. Support for both Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul has remained relatively consistent, though more voters have shifted to Paul while shifting away from Gingrich. Gingrich, facing increasing calls to drop out of the race, comes in fourth place in the poll.

Madonna thinks this is a direct correlation of Santorum veering off message. Instead of talking about the economy and foreign policy, he started talking more and more about social issues. Madonna highlighted his outspokenness on the issue of contraception and Santorum's concerns about the 'emotions' of women in combat.

'He just went off on one after another,' Madonna said. 'I think Republican voters looked at it and turned away from him.'

'Certain' Choices

Though a large chunk of Pennsylvanians didn't know who they were going to vote for, the ones that did respond, showed a fairly strong commitment to their candidate of choice. Both supporters of Santorum, at 70 per cent, and Romney, at 67 per cent, said they were 'certain' about their choice.

Overall, 68 per cent said their minds were made up. That's up from 56 per cent in February.

Leaning toward Santorum

Here's a good sign for Santorum: Of the 122 registered voters that didn't have a first choice, 30 per cent of those voters are 'leaning toward' him if the primary were held today. Then again, the primary is not today.

Romney, meanwhile, got 21 per cent of the vote. And again, uncertainty prevailed. A whopping 30 per cent don't even know which way they are leaning. One thing for certain: absolutely no one is leaning toward Ron Paul.

Santorum's declining favorability

Santorum's favorability ratings climbed from January to February, but they are falling again in the March poll. He's down to a 54 per cent favorability rating. Meanwhile, Romney's favorability ratings have remained more consistent throughout the year. And he's up in March, to 46 per cent.

'I think that's partly how he's come out with the controversial, provocative stances on these issues,' Madonna said. 'He's gotten himself into all these things, these situations that are kind of needless. What voters want to hear is 'debt, deficit, entitlement reform, recession, trade, jobs.' He can't do what he does, be provocative about it and not have it cost him.'

Republicans want someone who can beat Obama

These results continue the general trend across the board for Republican voters. If the most important issue to the voter is beating Obama, it's Romney by a large margin. If it's about 'strong moral character,' it's Santorum by a large margin. The 'true conservative' numbers' have to be of concern to Romney, who still can't make any inroads with conservative voters.

'Republican voters are now beginning to say we want an end to this,' Madonna said. 'And we want someone who can beat Obama. And in my poll, that issue has seen added importance. It's more important than it was a month ago.'

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