By NANCY BENAC and JENNIFER AGIESTA
WASHINGTON — The more Republicans get to know their potential White House candidates, the less happy they are with their choices.
It’s not that they dislike the individual candidates. They just give them a collective shrug as possible opponents for President Barack Obama. They’d like someone with a little more pizazz.
Some 45 percent now say they’re dissatisfied with the GOP candidates who have declared or are thought to be serious about running, up from 33 percent two months ago, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Just 41 percent are satisfied with the likely Republican field, down from 52 percent.
Plenty are holding out for somebody else.
In North Carolina, retiree Robert Osborne is hoping New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will decide to run. In Indiana, farmer Brent Smith wishes Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour hadn’t backed away. In Georgia, stock clerk Susan Demarest would love to see somebody more like Ronald Reagan.
Ohio’s William Johnson just wants somebody who’s not a “cold fish.”
“I don’t expect them to get up there and start doing karaoke, but we need somebody with a little more spunk,” says the Columbus steelworker.
While the Republican roster of candidates is growing almost by the day — Ron Paul declared on Friday, and Mike Huckabee says he’ll make an important announcement this weekend — satisfaction with the field appears to be shrinking.
Future polling could give a better idea of whether the dramatic raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, which gave a boost to Obama’s approval rating, also served to dampen enthusiasm temporarily for Republican candidates.
The poll was conducted May 5-9 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. The survey included 378 Republicans, and that subset had a larger, 6.9 percentage point margin of error.
Four years ago at this time, there was a clearly different dynamic for the GOP. In late May 2007, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found Republicans generally content with their choices: 68 percent said they were satisfied with “the choice of candidates for the Republican nomination for president,” though that was well below the 79 percent level of satisfaction among Democrats.
So far this year, it looks like a case of GOP buyer’s remorse before all the merchandise is even out on the shelves.
Lori Raney, who owns a drapery workroom in Canton, Ga., says she’s sure to vote for the party’s eventual nominee. But so far, she says, no standout candidate has emerged. She’d be happy to vote for somebody with a level head, but says a lot of voters demand something more.
“Nowadays, people don’t really care about qualifications and common sense,” she says. “They want the celebrity figure to run for president. Republicans just don’t have the celebrity-type figure.”
Smith, the farmer from Zionsville, Ind., sees some good choices in the field and hopes that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gets the nomination. But he confesses, “In truth, I don’t think there’s a Republican out there” who can beat Obama, because of the president’s strong support among minority voting blocs.
Candidate by candidate, Republicans display widely varying impressions of those who are in the GOP race or thinking about joining. With the field still gelling, a number of potential candidates are so little known that many Republicans can’t venture an opinion.
Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, who is viewed favorably by 72 percent of Republicans, has the highest rating of the lot. He’s thinking about running and said Friday he planned a “very important” announcement on his TV show this weekend.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2008, is viewed favorably by two-thirds of Republicans, as is Romney, who made a strong bid for the presidential nomination last time. Romney has all but announced this time; Palin is more of a question mark.
Palin’s support has held steady among Republicans in recent months, but her unfavorable rating among all adults is at a new high of 59 percent. Just 36 percent of Americans overall have a favorable opinion of her.
Romney’s favorability rating among Republicans has actually improved since March, growing from 59 percent to 66 percent.
The only other major Republican with a favorability rating above 50 percent in the poll was former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who didn’t enter the presidential race until the week after the poll was conducted. His favorability rating was 61 percent.
Businessman-TV celebrity Donald Trump was the only potential candidate to draw unfavorable reviews from half of Republicans. Forty-five percent viewed him favorably compared to 50 percent who rated him unfavorably.
GOP favorability ratings for lesser-known Republicans asked about in the poll: former Texas Rep. Paul, 49 percent; Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota , 41 percent; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, 36 percent; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, 33 percent; Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, 30 percent; former Utah Gov. and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, 20 percent.
Some conservatives have criticized the AP-GfK poll as heavy with responses from Democrats that skewed the results. AP-GfK polls use a consistent methodology that draws a random sample of the population independent of party identification. Such identification is not static and tends to fluctuate over time along with other political opinions.
However, the change in party identification in the current AP-GfK poll is not a statistically significant shift from the previous poll in March and could not by itself explain the poll findings.
Polling Director Trevor Tompson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.