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Poll: Arizona won't be easy pick-up for Obama

Carmona trailing Flake, needs more name recognition

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A poll released Wednesday shows Mitt Romney with a lead over President Barack Obama in Arizona.

The GOP candidate had a 7 point lead over Obama in a head-to-head matchup in a survey by Public Policy Polling.

Romney led the president 50-43 in the poll, which was performed Thursday through Sunday. The survey had a 4.4 percent margin of error, the polling firm said.

"That’s a big improvement for Romney from the last statewide general election poll in late February, when Romney was tied with Obama at 47," a news release from PPP said.

Just 9 percent said they were undecided, a marked change from a late April poll that showed a 42-40 split in Romney's favor, with 18 percent undecided.

Romney's seen gains since he emerged as the putative Republican nominee:

Romney’s favorability rating has improved 11 points from February to 46 percent, and he now leads with Independents against Obama 48-38. Obama led with Independents 53-39 in February.

Romney’s turnaround is also due in part to Obama’s worsening image among Arizona voters. Obama has a 41 percent approval rating in the state, down 5 points from February. The turnaround isn’t too surprising, considering Romney held a similar 7-point lead over Obama in a November statewide general election poll. Obama’s approval rating was also 41 percent in November, signaling that Obama’s numbers in February could have been inflated due to Arizona’s hostile Republican primary that took place less than a week after the poll was conducted.

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While some state Democrats have touted Arizona as part of a western path toward a second term for Obama, the president's "chances of winning Arizona don’t look as good as they did 3 months ago," said Dean Debnam of PPP.

Many have pegged Obama's chances of winning Arizona to the fortunes of former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, a Tucsonan who's seeking a U.S. Senate seat as a Democrat. While Carmona trails his GOP rivals, there's potential for the race to swing in his direction: he leads among voters who have an opinion about him (see sidebar).

The presidential survey questioned 500 Arizona voters. Forty-six percent identified themselves as Republicans, 31 percent as Democrats and 23 percent as independents.

Just 18 percent of those polled said they were Hispanic; 71 percent were white.

While Romney may be favored by Arizonas, two of the state's politicians aren't as well-liked:

Gov. Brewer has a 47 percent approval rating among Arizonans; adding her to the Romney ticket would reduce Romney’s lead by 4 points to 48-44. Only 36 percent of Arizonans approve of five-term Senator John McCain’s job performance. Adding him to the Romney ticket would decrease Romney’s lead by 5 points to 48-43.

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Photos by Will Seberger, photo illustration by Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Carmona trailing Flake, needs more name recognition

Analysis from Public Policy Polling:

Republican Senate primaries not going the way they're expected to has become the new norm over the last two election cycles, and there are indications Arizona could be the next state with some upset potential. PPP's newest poll finds that Wil Cardon has cut 27 points off of Jeff Flake's lead over the last three months. Flake still has a solid advantage of 22 points, 42-20, but it's a far cry from the 49 point lead he had at 56-7 when PPP surveyed the state in February.

Cardon's early advertising appears to be having an impact. His name recognition has nearly doubled from 17 percent to 35 percent and the numbers suggest that as he continues to become better known he may pull even closer to Flake- among voters who have an opinion about Cardon, whether it's a positive or negative one, he trails only 45-35.

What's interesting about Cardon's improved competitiveness is that it doesn't seem to be driven by ideology. Flake is actually beating him by a wider margin with voters describing themselves as 'very conservative'- 51-21- than he is overall. The decrease in support may be more an anti-politician thing than a 'he's not conservative enough' one.

The primary may be getting closer but Flake is still clearly the stronger Republican candidate for the general. He leads Richard Carmona 48-35, while Cardon has only a 40-37 advantage on the likely Democratic nominee. Things have changed little for the general since PPP's February poll. At that time Flake had a 46-35 advantage against Carmona and Cardon was up 37-33.

Despite the current lead for the GOP there's still reason to think this will end up being a closely contested race. Only 34% of voters are familiar with Carmona, putting him well behind Flake (60 percent) and even Cardon (40 percent) for name recognition. Carmona actually leads both Flake and Cardon among voters who have an opinion about him, suggesting he will gain once the name recognition gap closes as the election moves nearer.

For now Flake is benefiting from a 16 point lead with independents (48-32) and from getting an almost equal share of the Republican vote (71 percent) to what Carmona's pulling among Democrats (73 percent). For a Democrat to win in Arizona is generally going to require getting a healthy amount of GOP crossover support and winning independents, and right now Carmona's not there.

Republicans certainly remain favored in this race but with the potential for an upset in the GOP primary or at least a nasty contest that leaves the eventual nominee bruised this remains a sleeper race for Democrats as they seek to hold onto control of the Senate.

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