A new statewide survey suggests that Arizona Republicans should shun their first choice for president if they hope to cast the state's 11 electoral votes against Barack Obama.
Public Policy Polling found that 66 percent of Republicans questioned earlier this month have a favorable impression of Newt Gingrich. That compares with 53 percent for Mitt Romney and 50 percent for Herman Cain.
But Gingrich does no better than a dead heat with Obama when voters of all parties are asked who they would support if that were the matchup in November. By contrast, Romney would defeat the incumbent in Arizona on a 49-42 margin.
The difference is due to the independents who make up a third of the state's electorate.
In a Romney-Obama race, independents would split 47-36 for the Republican. But they are pretty much evenly split when asked to choose between Gingrich and Obama.
And that occurs even though 57 percent of Arizonans who are independent or not registered with either political party disapprove of the president's job performance.
Pollster Dean Debnam said the new survey shows the president slipping in his popularity in Arizona, including among members of his own party.
In May, just 11 percent disapproved of Obama's job performance. This automated telephonic poll of 500 voters, taken Nov. 17-20, shows that has doubled, to 22 percent.
And independents continue to move away from the president. His negatives among that group were just 45 percent in May; it now is 57 percent.
All that has translated into a bigger margin for Romney, who led the president among all groups by just four points in May.
The poll also shows that Ron Paul also could present a challenge to Obama in Arizona - if he can just get nominated by his own party.
On one hand, just 39 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of Paul.
But Paul does better than other GOP contenders outside his party. Asked to choose between him and Obama, Paul picks up 11 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents, enough to put the pair in a virtual tie in a survey with a 4.4 percentage point margin of error.
The survey also shows that Rick Perry is not doing well among Arizonans. Given a choice between the Texas governor and the president, Obama would win 47-40.
That survey, though, was taken before Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio decided to back Perry - assuming that endorsement will make a big difference.