Take it from the president: Any of the GOP candidates will present a contrast in visions to him. In comments that aired on CBS’ Face the Nation this morning, Barack Obama said he expects the 2012 election be primarily about ideas — and added he thinks all of the GOP presidential contenders present very different ideas than he does:

“It doesn’t really matter who the nominee is going to be,” Obama tells 60 Minutes in an interview to air tonight.

“The core philosophy that they’re expressing is the same,” Obama says of the Republican candidates, “and the contrast in visions between where I want to take the country and where they say they want to take the country is going to be stark.

“And the American people are going to have a good choice,” Obama says. “And it’s going to be a good debate.”

The president isn’t entirely right: Personalities do matter, and he no doubt privately would prefer to run against one or another of the candidates. If every one of the candidates were perfectly exchangeable, then they would all poll equally well against Obama — and that’s simply not the case. Mitt Romney has consistently outpolled his peers in head-to-head match-ups with Obama.

Now, a new NBC/Marist poll puts both Romney and Newt Gingrich behind Obama in the early primary states of South Carolina and Florida:

Obama, who lost South Carolina to Sen. John McCain in 2008, leads Romney there, 45% to 42%, a disparity within the margin of error. Obama also leads Gingrich 46% to 42%. The result is a reversal for Romney, who bested the president by six percentage points in the October poll.

In Florida, a state Obama captured in the last election, he would beat Romney 48% to 41% and Gingrich 51% to 39% in a potential match-up. In October, voters were divided between Romney and Obama.

But Public Policy Polling results still show Mitt Romney ahead of Obama — by 15 points no less — in South Carolina.

Whatever the polls show, though, the president does have a point. The choice in 2012 will not just be between Barack Obama and the GOP nominee; the choice, broadly speaking, will be between progressive and conservative ideas. To boil it down as simply as possible: Will we look to the government or to ourselves to recreate a prosperous society?