Hillary Clinton strong in Pa. trial polling

NJ governor Christie wins support from GOP

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Hillary Rodham Clinton's potential presidential candidacy attracted strong support from Pennsylvania voters in two early tests of the speculative 2016 field.

The former secretary of state was the overwhelming choice of the state's Democratic voters as their nominee in a survey by Public Policy Polling and the Quinnipiac University poll, and the level of her support topped that of every Republican candidate tested in separate trial heats conducted by PPP.

Despite the controversy over his associates' roles in the notorious George Washington Bridge lane closings, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won the most support among GOP voters, although no Republican enjoyed the dominant popularity in the results that the former first lady did.

President Barack Obama, who twice captured the state's electoral votes by big margins, may be glad not to have to face the state's voters a third time. In the Quinnipiac University survey, only 44 percent of the state's voters approved of the way he is handling his job, while 53 percent disapproved. There was a predictable Republican-Democratic contrast in views of the president, but a strong majority of independents, who broke his way in 2008 and 2012 in Pennsylvania, expressed disapproval, by a margin of 63 percent to 32 percent.

The state's U.S. senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, received middling grades from the voters. Mr. Casey's approval rating was 44 percent, while 27 percent disapproved. Mr. Toomey, whose seat will be on the 2016 ballot, got a positive rating of 41 percent, with 27 percent disapproving.

In the Quinnipiac survey, Mr. Christie came closest to Mrs. Clinton among the possible 2016 match-ups. She led the New Jersey governor, 45 percent to 41 percent, a margin just a bit beyond the poll's 2.7 percent margin for error. Mr. Christie will be campaigning in Pittsburgh today with Gov. Tom Corbett. She had a big lead among women, 51-37, but actually trailed, 45-38, among men.

The PPP survey saw a somewhat larger Clinton lead against Mr. Christie, 49 percent to 39 percent. According to both surveys, she led other potential GOP contenders -- including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin -- by significantly more comfortable margins.

If she were to enter the 2016 race, Mrs. Clinton would have a huge early lead in the competition for the state's Democratic delegates. A whopping 65 percent of that party's voters lined up behind Mrs. Clinton. No other Democrat polled beyond single digits. Despite his Scranton roots, Vice President Joe Biden managed only 9 percent in the hypothetical primary.

On the GOP side, PPP noted that another Pennsylvania figure, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, also fared poorly. Trailing Mr. Christie's 23 percent were the showings of Mr. Huckabee, 14 percent; Mr. Paul and Mr. Bush, 12 percent; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 10 percent; and Mr. Santorum, 8 percent.

The PPP survey was based on automated calls to 835 Pennsylvania voters and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent. The Quinnipiac results came from live telephone interviews with 1,308 registered voters, and had an error margin of 2.7 percent.

Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.

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