[[R A T I N G S]] * Here’s something of a surprise. Despite a deadly and confusing disaster at one of West Virginia’s coal mines earlier this month, and a fatal conveyer belt fire at still another mine last week, the state’s first-term Democratic governor, Joe Manchin, is riding high with voters. The latest SurveyUSA poll finds him to be the most popular governor in the United States, with an 80 percent job approval rating. Riding the bottom of this pack, however, continues to be the job of Bob Taft, the indicted Republican governor of Ohio, who claims an abysmal job approval of only 18 percent.
Previous top-spot holder Jodi Rell (R-Connecticut) tumbles in this new assessment to third place (with 75 percent job approval), while Utah’s Jon Huntsman climbs five points since the last SurveyUSA poll to 78 percent, securing second place behind Manchin. At the other end of the approval scale, we find most of the usual players--Taft; Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), with 28 percent approval; Ernie Fletcher (R-Kentucky), with 34 percent; and Matt Blunt (R-Missouri), with 35 percent. But Louisiana Democrat Kathleen Blanco (boasting 38 percent approval) no longer numbers among the bottom five. She’s been replaced in this survey by California’s GOP governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who--facing a revolt by Republican activists upset at his recent choice of a Democrat to serve as his chief of staff, and still suffering from his special-election losses in November--is now limping along with a 34 percent approval rating. This is certainly not good news for the Gropenator. The big question facing Schwarzenegger at this juncture is whether, in the run-up to his re-election race in the fall, his strategy of moving to the political center again can attract enough Democratic and independent voters to make up for the loss of hard-core conservatives. Future polls may tell.