President Obama shakes hands after visiting a family in Scranton, Pa. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters )
Pennsylvania voters want President Obama replaced, but are not sold on the list of Republican successors they have to choose from.
More than half, 51%, believe Obama does not deserve to be reelected, compared with 41% who do, according to a Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll of 422 registered Pennsylvania voters released Thursday.
Yet the state's voters still favor Obama over the top two Republican contenders, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
In Pennsylvania, Obama slightly edges Romney 45% to 41%, the poll shows. He bests Gingrich 52% to 35%.
Against a nameless Republican candidate, 45% picked Obama, 37% the Republican nominee and 14% said their vote would depend on who the GOP candidate is.
"Even though a majority of Pennsylvanians don't feel [Obama] deserves reelection, they are by no means convinced that they won't vote for him next year," Chris Borick, a Muhlenberg political pollster, said. "It says a lot about the perception of the Republican Party and Republicans in the field.
For Romney, who is fighting Gingrich to maintain front-runner status, the poll solidifies his best defense — that he would appeal to voters in moderate swing states like Pennsylvania and have the best shot of any Republican to beat Obama.
But Romney's argument is eroded in a separate poll also released Thursday, by Quinnipiac University.
The Quinnipiac survey shows in other swing states Gingrich does just as well or nearly as well as Romney in a general election matchup with Obama. In Ohio, he and Romney both lead Obama 43% to 42%, that poll shows. And in Florida, Gingrich trails Obama by only 2%.
In Pennsylvania, which has 1 million more Democrats than Republicans, Gingrich trails Obama 48% to 40%, according to Quinnipiac. If Gingrich were the nominee he'd likely have a greater climb in Pennsylvania than Romney because Gingrich is still linked to the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and the government shutdown a year later.
Obama's Achilles' heel in Pennsylvania remains the economy. A whopping 91% of voters polled said the economy is in poor or not-so-good shape. And more than a third, 38%, said Obama's policies have hurt the economy.
The president's approval in Pennsylvania is consistent with how he's viewed nationwide. Half of likely state voters give him negative marks compared with 45% who approve of his job performance.
While those numbers are an unwelcome reminder for the Obama campaign of the fight facing them in Pennsylvania, Obama's approval did increase significantly since an August survey that found Obama with a dismal 35% approval.
The uptick could be a result of Obama's fall tour pitching his plan for job creation and his success shifting blame to a gridlocked Congress. Though, as Borick points out, the August poll was conducted during a particularly bad period for the president during the debt-limit fight in Washington.
"The big picture is he is marginally better," Borick said of Obama in Pennsylvania. "He has some room for optimism but still has significant hurdles to overcome."
Political handicappers say Obama must win Pennsylvania to keep the White House for a second term in all but extreme scenarios. Pennsylvania's primary election is April 24.
The Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll was conducted Nov. 28 through Dec. 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. Quinnipiac University pollsters talked with 578 Pennsylvania Republicans and the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.