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Posted at 3:55 PM ET, 02/ 9/2011

How a Palin nomination could expand Obama's playing field

By Rachel Weiner

Photo by Spencer Weiner/AP

A series of state polls released over the last few weeks suggest that if Republicans nominate former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2012 it could hand President Obama a considerable electoral vote margin next November.

"I'd say it is too early to tell, but almost every poll taken now says former Governor Palin would certainly lose a 2012 Presidential race in a landslide," said Republican consultant Mike Murphy. "She is the Obama White House's secret weapon to wipe out the GOP on election day 2012."

The latest survey to show a traditionally red state potentially swinging to Obama if Palin is the Republican nominee comes out of Tennessee. A Vanderbilt University survey found Obama at 42 percent to 37 percent for Palin even though nearly 54 percent of respondents said they disapprove of the job the president is doing. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the state in 2008 by 15 points.

Tennessee hasn't been red forever, however. Bill Clinton won the state in 1992 and 1996. But Obama doesn't have the geographic connection Clinton had with Southern voters; and the South has only become more Republican in the past decade and a half.

Recent polls have also found Obama and Palin running competitively in South Carolina, Georgia and South Dakota . In Nebraska, a poll found Palin at 45 percent to Obama's 44 percent.

(The majority of these polls were conducted by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning automated-caller firm. Auto-dialed polls remain controversial in the polling community.)

South Carolina hasn't gone Democratic since 1976; Obama did better than Al Gore or John Kerry in the state in 2008, but still lost by nine points. Obama picked up one electoral vote in Nebraska (it's one of two states that divides electoral votes by district) but overall the state went for McCain by a whopping 19 points. Georgia, on the other hand, was actually within Obama's reach in 2008, although would have to be considered a longshot for him in 2012.

In a December 2010 Washington Post/ABC News poll 49 percent of respondents in states won by McCain in 2008 said they would not vote for Palin in 2012. Only forty-eight percent either definitely would vote for her or consider the possibility.

When given a binary choice between Palin and Obama, however, more McCain-state voters pick the former Alaska governor. That data point suggests that when it comes down to it, some Republicans wary of Palin will still vote for her over the current occupant of the White House -- even if right now, polls suggest otherwise.

Todd Harris, a Republican media consultant, seconded that sentiment -- noting that speculating about what a Palin-Obama matchup might look like in November 2012 was pointless.

"The fact is the general election is almost two years away, and these hypothetical head to heads mean about as much today as they did four years ago when they showed Hillary Clinton handily defeating Senator What's His Name from Illinois," said the ever-quotable Harris.

Even if the state polls are to be believed, President Obama faces daunting odds to approach the past presidential records for electoral vote totals.

President Ronald Reagan set the bar with his 525 electoral vote landslide over Walter Mondale in 1984. Franklin Roosevelt won 523 votes against Alf Landon in 1936 and Richard Nixon racked up 520 votes against George McGovern in 1972.

By Rachel Weiner  | February 9, 2011; 3:55 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  | Tags:  Sarah Palin  
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