Politics

Santorum Candidacy Rising Among Dissatisfied California Republicans

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Rick Santorum

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a Tea Party rally February 18, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (Jay LaPrete/Getty Images)

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SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) — California’s Republican voters have warmed up to the surging candidacy of Rick Santorum but also are expressing growing dissatisfaction with the field of GOP presidential candidates, according to a Field Poll released Wednesday.

The former Pennsylvania senator is preferred by 25 percent of the state’s registered Republicans, a turn-around that has come partly at the expense of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose support in the state has plunged.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

Santorum was supported by just 2 percent of California GOP voters in a Field Poll taken last November. His growing popularity since then has been driven in part by those who said they identify with the tea party or classify themselves as strongly conservative.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remained Republicans’ top choice, getting support from 31 percent.

The survey’s timing was key. Field interviewed Republicans Feb. 2-18, a period that included Santorum victories in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

Just as significant as Santorum’s ascent is the growing unease among Republicans about the entire GOP presidential field.

A September Field Poll, taken when more candidates were in the race, found that 66 percent of Republicans were somewhat or very satisfied with their choices. That dropped to 57 percent in the most recent poll, with those saying they are very satisfied dropping from nearly one-in-five to just 10 percent.

Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said that type of decline is somewhat unusual because voters typically warm up to candidates over time.

As the party moves closer to choosing a nominee, its voters seem less confident that any of the candidates can beat President Barack Obama in the general election, he said.

“As they learn more about the candidates, they’re seeing they’re not as strong as they thought they might have been,” DiCamillo said.

He said the back-and-forth nature of the race holds the possibility that California’s June 5 primary might matter. If no candidate has a majority of delegates by then and the state is in play, the primary is likely to favor Romney even though his support has slipped recently.

“If that’s the way it’s looking in June, California will be a huge bounty,” DiCamillo said.

California’s 172 delegates are 15 percent of the 1,144 delegates needed to claim the Republican nomination. The survey said most delegates will be awarded on a winner-take-all basis by congressional district.

Romney has an oceanfront home in La Jolla, near San Diego, and 66 percent of the state’s Republican voters view him favorably. Santorum is further to the right on social issues than most California Republicans, and his favorability rating in the poll released Wednesday is just 40 percent.

At the same time, the state’s Republicans are increasingly enamored of Sen. Ron Paul, whose support has increased from 5 percent in the November Field Poll to 16 percent in the latest survey.

Gingrich, who was rivaling Romney for support in California as recently as November, now is favored by just 12 percent of Republicans, mirroring his recent struggles nationally.

The Field Poll conducted random telephone interviews of 400 registered Republicans divided into groups, one interviewed Feb. 2-10 and the other Feb. 11-18. The GOP subgroup has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 7 percentage points.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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