Could Obama lose Pennsylvania in 2012?

That’s not even the big question that arises from PPP’s latest survey in Pennsylvania.  Despite a significant registration advantage, Republicans won the gubernatorial and Senatorial races in the Keystone State in 2010, plus kept their hold on the state legislature, so the possibility definitely exists that Barack Obama might lose this reliable blue state in the next cycle.  The big question will be whether he can win a second term without it (via Newsalert):

Pennsylvania is looking more and more like it could be a tough hold for Barack Obama in 2012. His approval rating in the state continues to be under water at 46/48. More voters have expressed disapproval than happiness with Obama on all three polls PPP has done in the state so far in 2011. And even though Obama took Pennsylvania by 10 points in 2008 the best he can muster right now in a head to head match up with Mitt Romney is a tie.

Obama’s problem in Pennsylvania appears to be the ‘Hillary Democrats’ finally causing him a real issue. There was a lot of speculation in 2008 that they wouldn’t vote for him in the general election but in the end they did. Now though his approval rating with Democrats in the state is only 74%, well below his national numbers, and with white Democrats it goes down even further to 70%. Meanwhile Republicans are much more unified in their disapproval of Obama (85%, with only 10% approving) and the President’s not getting any favors from independents either who break down slightly negatively (44/45) in their assessments of him.

Obama’s poll numbers are worse in Pennsylvania than they are in places like Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, and New Mexico, all states that went Republican in 2004 even as Pennsylvania voted Democratic. The President’s persistently poor numbers in a state that’s gone Democratic in every Presidential election for the last 24 years probably make Pennsylvania the place where Obama should be most concerned about his current standing.

The survey shows a D+11 advantage for a Democratic pollster, but in Pennsylvania, that’s probably about right – if you go by registration advantage.  In the 2010 race, exit polls from the gubernatorial race showed an advantage of only 40/37 for Democrats, and Tom Corbett won that race by eight points.  In 2008, in a good night for Democrats nationwide, the exit polls showed only a 44/37 advantage for Democrats, and it’s clear that Obama doesn’t have the kind of enthusiasm at his back now that he enjoyed then in Pennsylvania, where Obama won by 11 points.  Given the likely lack of enthusiasm for Obama in 2012, that 11-point Democratic advantage looks like a big overstatement.

With that in mind, let’s look at how Republicans fare against Obama in this poll.  Romney ties Obama at 44%, the best showing in the survey.  He and Tim Pawlenty pull a significant number of those “Hillary Democrats” (18%) into the GOP column, although Pawlenty trails Obama by eight, 47/39.  The only Republicans against which Obama gets a majority are Sarah Palin (53/39 Obama), Michele Bachmann (50/43, a surprisingly close result), and home-state Rick Santorum, who loses 50/40 against Obama.  In a properly-sampled poll, Obama might not get to a majority against any of them, which shows the weakness of his position in the state.

Pennsylvania is a keystone (pun intended) for any Democratic presidential candidate, much the way Ohio is for Republicans.  Its Electoral College mathematical significance matters slightly less than it did before the last Census, but its loss would make Election Night very difficult indeed for Obama.  The disaffection of blue-collar Democrats in Pennsylvania would almost certainly be a harbinger of a national trend, leaving him gasping for air in states like Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin — all states Obama won in 2008.  It’s very difficult to see a path to a second term in an election where Obama loses Pennsylvania, especially since its status as a swing state would shift resources to a state that Obama won handily just three years ago.