World Poll: Republicans Divided On GOP Candidates

Randy Krehbiel
Tulsa World

OKLAHOMA CITY — The hearts and minds of Oklahoma Republicans are pulling them in different directions as the state’s GOP presidential primary approaches.

Survey results released Tuesday by show that Oklahoma Republicans think former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has the best chance of beating Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama but that Newt Gingrich is a stronger leader and more experienced.

But they like former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Seventy percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of Santorum, with only 14 percent unfavorable.

He rated first among the four Republican candidates for honesty and trustworthiness and as the candidate who best understands the problems of average Americans.

Gingrich edged Romney as the strongest leader among the four and had a big advantage in the leadership area.
Romney, though, was identified as the person most likely to beat Obama. Forty-three percent said Romney would be the best candidate if victory in November is the primary objective, compared to 23 percent for Santorum and 19 percent for Gingrich.

Ron Paul, the only one of the four whose unfavorable rating (49 percent) was higher than his favorable rating (36 percent), did not top other candidates in any category.

“What we’re seeing from Santorum is kind of lateblooming,”said Republican consultant Karl Ahlgren. “A lot of Oklahomans didn’t know a little-known … senator from Pennsylvania.”

Sheryl Lovelady, a former Democratic consultant, said that “I think it’s interesting when ‘Beat Obama’ is a characteristic across the board that remains very high.”

“I don’t think it’s sustainable,”she said. “Voters want to be for something, and not just against something.”

University of Oklahoma political science professor Keith Gaddie said GOP hopefuls shouldn’t box themselves in by veering too far right during the nomination fight.

“The Republican Party appears to be at war with, basically, the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries in this process,”said Gaddie. “They are going back to pre-industrial perspectives on some aspects of morality and the relationship between the nation and the states, (and that is) going to create real problems for them with voters who have more contemporary concerns.”

At the same time, Gaddie said, survey results showing both Romney and Santorum leading Obama by 40 percentage points in Oklahoma are “deeply, darkly troubling”for state Democrats.

Obama, he said, is likely to get a smaller share of the state’s vote than his 34 percent in 2008.

All three panelists said Santorum is likely to win Oklahoma, but they tempered that with caution. They said none of the four remaining GOP candidates seems to have been enthusiastically embraced by state Republicans.

“There is no clear consensus,”said Lovelady. “There’s no one candidate breaking away.”

“The up and down of these candidates is driven by the fact that none of them is a satisfactory candidate for the Republican voters out there,”Gaddie said.

Ahlgren agreed, noting that Herman Cain appears to remain popular among Oklahoma Republicans despite personal issues that caused him to drop out of the race.

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