North Carolina provides a great example of the spoiler role Newt Gingrich is now playing in the Republican Presidential race. With Gingrich in the field a split conservative vote allows Mitt Romney to lead in the state with 31% to 27% for Rick Santorum, 24% for Gingrich, and 8% for Ron Paul. But if Gingrich was out of the picture most of his support would go to Santorum, giving last night's big winner 42% to 38% for Romney and 10% for Paul.
Digging in on the numbers with some key groups shows how the conservative split aids Romney. Among Tea Party voters Santorum gets 31% to 30% for Gingrich and 25% for Romney. Take Gingrich out and Santorum's advantage with those folks is 52-37. Similar story with Evangelicals- full field it's Santorum at 31% t0 28% for Romney and 26% for Gingrich. Take Gingrich out and Santorum's advantage with that group is 49/33. And with 'very conservative' voters Santorum's at 35% to 28% for Gingrich and 23% for Romney full field, but up 57-28 on Romney if Gingrich was out of the race.
Whoever the Republican nominee is Barack Obama has an advantage over him right now. Obama leads Romney by 3 points, 49-46. That's up from a 1 point lead a month ago. And Obama's ahead of Santorum by 5 points, 49-44. That's up from a 2 point lead in February. Obama's up 48-41 on Ron Paul and 51-42 on Newt Gingrich.
Part of Obama's good numbers in North Carolina are a function of his own improved popularity, but he's also benefiting from the poor image of his opponents. As we're finding in most swing states Mitt Romney is very unpopular with only 31% of voters seeing him favorably to 56% with a negative opinion. Rick Santorum doesn't do much better- his favorability spread is 36/52.
This poll just confirms what we see every month in North Carolina- Barack Obama is holding his ground and although the GOP may gain some ground once it finally unifies around a nominee, this is most definitely a swing state.
Full results here