Poll: Romney starts with big lead in New Hampshire

A new poll shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the early Republican frontrunner in New Hampshire, where he holds a commanding 23-point edge over his closest potential rival — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.   

The New Hampshire Journal poll, conducted by the Republican firm Magellan Strategies, found Romney comfortably at the head of the pack of rumored 2012 hopefuls with 39 percent of the vote. 

He's followed by Palin at 16 percent, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 10 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 8 percent and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) at 7 percent. 

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty registers a disappointing 4 percent in the survey. That's barely ahead of former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who comes in at 3 percent and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who polls just 1 percent.

To state the obvious — it's very early — but Romney's lead is still notable. So are Palin's favorability numbers, particularly among independent voters. The NH Journal poll measured a net positive favorability for Palin with self-identified independents — 50 percent to 41 percent. 

And while it didn't translate to a better showing against Romney, the poll also found her very popular with the GOP base in the state, which unlike in Iowa tends to be a bit more centrist. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans polled said they have a favorable view of Palin.   

Santorum, who moved closer to a 2012 run earlier this week when he announced his first staff hire in New Hampshire, is heading back to the state for another visit later this month and Pawlenty has a two-day visit to the state on his January schedule as part of his book tour.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is also heading to New Hampshire next month, but denied a report in The New York Post that he's huddling with political advisers and weighing another run for president in 2012. 


Poll: Nearly half of Nevada Republicans want Sen. Ensign to step aside

If Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) opts to run for reelection in 2012 he will have a tough road ahead, even with members of his own party. 

New numbers from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found 48 percent of Republicans in the state would rather see Ensign step aside in 2012. Just 42 percent of Nevada Republicans want him to seek reelection.

And while Ensign currently trails all potential Democratic opponents, including Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) 45 percent to 42 percent, the poll found Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) leading every potential Democratic hopeful in an open-seat contest. 

Heller leads Berkley 51 percent to 38 percent in a hypothetical 2012 match up. 

Ensign has not yet indicated whether he will run for another term in 2012 following a scandal over his affair with the wife of a former campaign aide. 

Last month, the Department of Justice dropped its probe of Ensign over allegations that a cover-up of the affair was at work in a $96,000 payment made to the parents of Ensign's former mistress. The Federal Election Commission also dropped an investigation into the matter late last year. 

The Las Vegas Sun's political guru Jon Ralston predicted Wednesday that Ensign would not run in 2012, setting up a contest between Heller and Berkley. 

Even if Ensign decides to seek another term, he could still face a primary challenge from Heller, who has publicly suggested that Ensign remaining in the Senate could detract from the needs of the state. 

Ensign and Heller recently broke on the tax cut compromise reached by President Obama and Senate Republicans. Ensign opposed the deal, while Heller supported it. 

The poll also found that Republicans overwhelmingly regret their choice of Sharron Angle to be the party's nominee against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2010. A full 68 percent of Nevada Republicans said they should have nominated someone else. 


Poll: Jeb Bush would top Sen. Nelson in 2012

New numbers out Tuesday show Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) leading all of his potential GOP opponents in 2012, with the exception of one: former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.). 

In a hypothetical 2012 Senate contest, the former governor leads Nelson 49 percent to 44, taking close to 30 percent of the Democratic vote from Nelson, according to Democratic-leaning firm, Public Policy Polling. 

The only problem is that Bush hasn't signaled any interest in a 2012 Senate run, and GOP insiders in the state say they have little reason to believe he'll change his mind.

Outgoing Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) and state Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) are both likely candidates and have indicated they would step aside should Bush decide to jump into the race. Nelson has yet to officially announce his intentions for 2012.

The poll shows Nelson's top-line approval numbers to be poor, with just 36 percent of voters approving. He gets just 45 percent approval from Democrats in the state. But pollster Tom Jensen said Nelson's strength lies in better-than-average approval numbers among independent voters and Republicans. 

Those numbers help Nelson top every potential contender with the exception of Bush. 

Nelson leads Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) 44 percent to 36; he leads LeMieux 47 percent to 36 percent, and he tops Haridopolos 44 percent to 32 percent.


Poll: Tax-cut deal a positive for Obama in Pa.

A new poll out Thursday shows overwhelming support for the tax-cut deal reached by President Obama and Senate Republicans among voters in the key presidential state of Pennsylvania. 

A full 69 percent of voters there approve of the compromise, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll, which also notes a slight uptick in Obama's approval numbers in the state. 

Obama won Pennsylvania with 55 percent of the vote in 2008, but has seen his ratings fall sharply in the state over the past two years.   

The president's approval is still largely split among Pennsylvania voters, with just 44 percent approving to 43 percent who disapprove. But that's an improvement from this past summer, when a Q-poll found 49 percent of voters in the state disapproving of the president's performance. 

The July poll also found 48 percent of voters who thought Obama didn't deserve election to a second term — that number is now 44 percent. 

Obama's overall numbers are still in the danger zone in Pennsylvania as he gets just 41 percent of the vote against a generic Republican in a hypothetical 2012 match-up, but the tax-cut compromise that has incensed the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is overwhelmingly popular with independents in the state.   

A full 72 percent of independent voters approve of the deal, along with 72 percent of Republicans. The number is just slightly lower among Democrats, with 66 percent approving of the compromise.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released late Wednesday also showed widespread approval of the tax-cut compromise, which cleared the Senate easily Wednesday and is set for a vote in the House as early as today. That poll measured 59 percent of voters in agreement with the tax-cut deal.


Amid ballot challenge, Emanuel captures lead in Chicago mayor's race

Rahm Emanuel has a commanding lead in the Chicago mayor's race, but many voters remain undecided, according to a new poll.

The former White House chief of staff has the support of 32 percent of voters, with 30 percent undecided, a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll released Wednesday found.

He was the only candidate in the crowded mayoral primary field with double-digit support.

Former Chicago Public Schools official Gery Chico and Rep. Danny Davis each had 9 percent, with state Sen. James Meeks at 7 percent and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun at 6 percent.

A third of African-Americans are undecided. While 19 percent are backing Emanuel, Meeks gets 13 percent and 10 percent are supporting Braun.

The news comes as Emanuel and his camp prepare for the third day of a Chicago Board of Elections hearing into some 30 challenges to his eligibility for the February ballot. Objectors have challenged Emanuel's eligibility based on the requirement that candidates must live in Chicago for a year prior to the mayoral election.


Poll shows Sen. Kohl in 'solid position,' but GOP points out same was said of Sen. Feingold

Republicans happily pointed out an ominous parallel in Democratic polling of Wisconsin Senate races Tuesday.

The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling released a survey showing Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) in a "pretty solid position" with a 50 percent approval rating.

Moreover, the Dec. 10-12 survey shows him with leads over potential GOP rivals Rep. Paul Ryan, former Gov. Tommy Thompson and state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen ranging from 6 to 13 points.

And if Kohl decides not to run for reelection in 2012, as some have speculated, and Russ Feingold opts to make a bid, the defeated senator has a good chance of getting his job back. Feingold, who lost in 2010, polls similarly to Kohl in the same match-ups with the Republicans, and leads Ryan by 7 points, according to PPP.

"Wisconsin Senate looks good for Dems," the North Carolina-based firm concludes. 

But PPP made a similar proclamation in November 2009, the National Republican Senatorial Committee pointed out.

"Feingold looks solid," PPP said then.

Feingold lost to Republican Ron Johnson by 5 percent. (PPP's last survey before the vote gave Johnson a 9-point lead with 3 percent undecided.) The November 2009 PPP survey, however, didn't include Johnson, who declared in May of 2010.


Poll: Former Sen. Talent holds edge among GOP contenders

New poll numbers from the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling show former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) as the top choice among Missouri Republicans to take on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in 2012. 

Talent led the way among Republican voters in the state with 53 percent to Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder's 26 percent. 

The lone Republican to have already jumped into the race, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, was third, with just 17 percent. 

Talent is weighing a bid for his old seat after McCaskill ousted him in 2006, but he has yet to announce his intentions. Republicans in the state don't expect him to make an official decision before the end of the year. 

While the poll suggests Talent has a major edge should he decide to run, his lead is more the result of name ID than anything else. 

The poll found 68 percent of Republicans were familiar enough with Talent to offer an opinion, while just 38 percent said the same of Steelman.


Poll: Sen. McCaskill in dead heat with GOP challenger

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who's expected to be high on the list of GOP Senate targets in 2012, begins her race for reelection in a dead heat with Republican Sarah Steelman. 

Numbers from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling out Wednesday have McCaskill ahead of Steelman by just a single point — 45 percent to 44 percent. 

Steelman, a former state treasurer, officially jumped in the race against McCaskill Wednesday, but she could face a primary challenge from former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) or Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R). 

Both Republicans are better known than Steelman, and the poll gives both Talent and Kinder a slight edge over McCaskill. Talent leads the Democratic incumbent 47 percent to 45 percent in a hypothetical rematch. Kinder leads McCaskill 46 percent - 44 percent. 

One positive sign for McCaskill — independents split pretty evenly in all three hypothetical 2012 match-ups. A full 40 percent of self-identified independents favor McCaskill in a race against Steelman, who gets 37 percent of independents. In a McCaskill-Talent rematch, independents split 40-40. 

The poll surveyed 515 registered Missouri voters and has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee already lobbed its first attack at Steelman Wednesday, labeling her a perennial candidate and "ultimate establishment insider." 

Steelman ran in the 2008 GOP gubernatorial primary but lost to establishment-backed Kenny Hulshof. Democrat Jay Nixon ultimately defeated Hulshof by almost 20 points in the general election.

—Sean J. Miller contributed to this post