Barack Obama would have a harder time winning Pennsylvania than he did in 2008 if he had to stand for reelection today...but he still leads all of the top Republican contenders for 2012 in the state.
What we see in Pennsylvania is a story we've seen before in other key swing states like Ohio and Florida- Obama continues to have under water approval ratings but voters nevertheless prefer him to any of the prominent GOP alternatives. The President's approval rating in the state is 46%, with 49% of voters disapproving of him. The main reason he's on negative ground is that Republicans are more unified in their unhappiness with him (85%) than Democrats are in their support (76%). Independents split right down the middle with 49% approving and 49% disapproving.
There are 2 clear tiers of electability among the current Republican front runners in Pennsylvania. Mike Huckabee, trailing 47-44 and Mitt Romney, trailing 46-42 are both within the margin of error against Obama and appear they would make the state much more competitive than John McCain did when he lost by 10 points in 2008.
The other two leading Republicans would see about the same fate as McCain in the case of Newt Gingrich- who trails 50-40- or a much worse one in the case of Sarah Palin who trails Obama 51-36. The last time a Republican candidate lost Pennsylvania by a margin that large was Barry Goldwater in 1964. We also tested Rick Santorum as a home state candidate and his performance falls somewhere in the middle, trailing 48-40.
Only Huckabee among the Republicans is viewed favorably by a plurality of voters in the state, with 39% seeing him favorably and 36% unfavorably. The reason he trails Obama anyway is that while 21% of Democrats like him personally only 14% are actually willing to vote for him. The rest of the Republican candidates run from slightly unpopular (Mitt Romney at a 34/38 favorability and Rick Santorum at a 38/44) to extremely unpopular (Newt Gingrich at a 29/53 and Sarah Palin at a 34/59).
The most striking thing in the Pennsylvania poll might be the independents. Exit polls in the state last year showed Pat Toomey winning them by 10 points in the Senate race and Tom Corbett with an 18 point advantage with them in the Gubernatorial contest. But Obama has a double digit lead with them against every single one of the Republicans- 12 points over Huckabee, 18 over Palin and Romney, and 20 over Gingrich and Santorum. That's a pretty clear early sign that the strong Republican advantage with independents in 2010 was more of a one time thing than the beginning of a long term trend.
Obama is certainly beatable- his approval numbers would be on positive ground in the state if he wasn't- but Republicans are going to have to step up their game to win Pennsylvania in 2012.
Full results here