You can talk about the economy and unemployment and Afghanistan all you want but Barack Obama has one huge asset when it comes to his reelection bid: the Republican Party. And nowhere is that clearer than in the vital state of Florida where voters are split pretty much right down the middle on the President, but nevertheless leaning toward reelecting him at this point.
48% of voters in the Sunshine State approve of the job Obama's doing to 49% who disapprove. Republicans are more unified in their disapproval of him (87%) than Democrats are in their approval (81%) and independents split against him by a 48/49 margin identical to his overall numbers.
Despite Obama's tepid approval numbers he still has at least a 4 point lead against all of his top potential challengers. It's 47-43 over Mitt Romney, an 8 point advantage over Tim Pawlenty at 48-40, a 9 point edge against Michele Bachmann at 49-40, an 11 point spread against Herman Cain at 48-37, and a 12 point blowout over Sarah Palin at 52-40.
Why, if Obama's relatively weak in the state, does he lead all of his potential opponents? Because the Republicans are weaker. Consider this:
1) All of the GOP hopefuls have negative favorability ratings in the state, both overall and with independents. Bachmann comes closest to breaking even at 36/37, including 29/41 with independents. Romney's 41/45 overall and 43/45 with independents, Cain's 25/33 overall and 27/29 with independents, Pawlenty's 19/39 overall and 16/42 with independents, and Palin's 37/58 overall and 27/67 with independents. Floridians aren't enamored with Obama but they don't find any of the alternatives particularly compelling either.
2) Rick Scott is going to be a problem for whoever ends up as the Republican nominee. A plurality of voters in the state- 40%- says his actions as Governor have made it less likely they'll vote GOP for President next year. 34% say he won't make a difference either way in their vote and 26% say the things he's done make them more likely to vote for a Republican. What's most important about these numbers is that 18% of voters who disapprove of Obama are so turned off by Scott that they're less likely to vote for the GOP next year.
Scott's important because he's helped remind voters in Florida why they turned away from the GOP in 2006 and 2008- there are going to be folks who don't love Obama who are going to end up voting for him anyway because they think he's a lesser of evils. In a state that tends to be decided by 2 or 3 points Scott's unpopularity and damage to the Republican brand could throw the state to Obama.
Florida's other newly elected Republican- Senator Marco Rubio- is doing pretty well so far. 42% of voters approve of the job he's doing to 35% who disapprove. His approval numbers are better than those of his senior colleague Bill Nelson, who we'll release figures for next week.
It doesn't look like adding Rubio to the ticket would do much to help GOP hopes of winning the state next year though- 31% of voters say they would be more likely to vote for the Republican nominee if Rubio was the VP candidate while 35% say they would be less likely to and 34% say it doesn't make a difference either way. VP picks are rarely game changers and it doesn't look like the story would be any different with Rubio.
Obama's vulnerable in Florida but if the GOP doesn't step its game up he might be able to back into another victory in the state anyway.
Full results here