There are two interesting story lines for next year's Presidential race in South Dakota: it's one of the few states we've polled that responds positively to a home state candidate and despite the fact that a Democrat hasn't won it in a Presidential contest since 1964 Barack Obama leads Sarah Palin by 8 points there.
John McCain took the state by 8 points in 2008 and if Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee next year they'd win by margins similar to that. Huckabee leads Obama 47-41 and Romney has an identical 6 point advantage at a 46-40 spread.
If the GOP went with Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin as its nominee Obama's prospects for picking up the state would improve dramatically. Against Gingrich he holds a slight lead at 44-42 and pitted against Palin that increases to a somewhat remarkable 48-40.
The one potential candidate who would completely blow Obama out of the water is John Thune. He leads the President by 20 points in a hypothetical contest, 57-37. Thune is the first of the potential Republican candidates we've polled who's really done well in their home state. Tim Pawlenty trails Obama in Minnesota by a wider margin than Romney does. Rick Perry ties Obama in Texas even as the rest of the Republican candidates lead him. Chris Christie is down double digits in New Jersey and doesn't do any better than Romney or Huckabee. We haven't tested any head to heads in Alaska but voters there hate Sarah Palin now. Mitt Romney does better than the other Republicans in Masschusetts but still trails by a wide margin and Rick Santorum can't even finish in the top four for a primary contest in Pennsylvania. So South Dakota's strong support of a Thune run is more the exception than the rule in our 2012 polling to date.
Thune's strong showing is no surprise given that he's one of the most popular Senators in the country. His home state approval rating is 58% with only 31% of voters disapproving of him. He has near universal support from within his own party but he also gets good marks for his job performance from a third of Democrats, far more support than most folks in his position across the country get from across the aisle.
Obama's slightly unpopular in the state with 42% of voters approving of him and 49% disapproving. He's ahead of both Gingrich and Palin though because they're more unpopular than that. Gingrich's favorability is a 31/43 spread and Palin's is even worse at 37/55. Voters there are positive toward Huckabee, with 40% rating him favorably to 30% with a negative opinion, and a small plurality like Romney as well- 35% favorable, 34% unfavorable.
In the last two weeks we've found Palin up 1 point in Texas, up 1 point in Nebraska, and down 8 points in South Dakota. What those numbers indicate is that she would only really be safe in states that Republicans won by at least 20 points in 2008. And there weren't very many of those. It's becoming clearer and clearer that a Palin nomination would be Goldwater redux for the GOP. They need a new face and it will be interesting to see if John Thune gets in whether voters other places will respond as positively to him as those in South Dakota too. One thing's for sure: his home state support is at least one thing that differentiates him out of the gate from the other Republicans seriously considering the race.
Full results here