Predicted finish: 1: Romney 2: Gingrich 3: Santorum 4: Paul
While Mitt Romney risks turning off some voters by spiking the ball before he’s in the end zone, it looks like he will win a commanding double digit victory in today’s Florida primary. His RealClearPolitics average is +13 percent this morning, with some polls showing him leading by 15 to 20 points. Just ten days ago the polls showed Newt Gingrich in the lead by 5-9 points. What happened? For one thing, Romney decided to fight back. In South Carolina, he had Gingrich on the ropes, as conservatives recoiled from Gingrich’s attacks on Romney’s private sector record. But Romney let him off the ropes and allowed Gingrich to use the South Carolin debates to rally conservatives to his side again. Romney did not make that mistake in Florida, going after Gingrich at both debates and with ads highlighting his fall from the House speakership and his ties to Freddie Mac. As he slid in the polls, Gingrich responded by reverting to the tactics that almost lost him South Carolina -- attacking Romney’s work at Bain, with a Super PAC ad attacking Romney’s private sector that was virtually indistinguishable from one put out by a public worker union that has pledged $100 million to re-elect Obama.
All this makes it more likely that Rick Santorum will stay in the race, despite the poor showing he will likely post today. He believes, with good reason, that Gingrich is falling out of favor on the right, and that he is positioned to pick up the mantle of conservative alternative to Romney. Already, Santorum has started picking up endorsements from conservatives like David Limbaugh and influential blogger Michelle Malkin. He could see a boost if the anyone-but-Mitt crowd decides to get behind him Santorum remains a long shot, but with more nationally televised debates coming up that allow him free publicity, he has no reason to get out of the race. And Ron Paul isn’t going anywhere.