Florida primary: Mitt Romney pulls ahead of Newt Gingrich

January 30, 2012

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney surging in the final days before the Florida Republican presidential primary, Amy Gardner, Philip Rucker and William Branigin report :

Mitt Romney opened a double-digit lead over Newt Gingrich in a new poll ahead of Tuesday’s Florida Republican primary, but the Gingrich campaign insisted that the former House speaker is staying in the GOP nomination race for the long haul and remains the only conservative able to beat President Obama in November.

A new Quinnipiac University poll released Monday on the final full day of campaigning in Florida shows Romney with a 14-point lead over Gingrich, 43 percent to 29 percent, among likely GOP primary voters. That compares to a lead of 38 percent to 29 percent at the end of last week, Quinnipiac said.

Two other polls, released last weekend, suggest that Romney is pulling away from former House speaker Newt Gingrich in the Sunshine state, according to Karen Tumulty and Rucker:

Gingrich, desperate to avoid a rout in the biggest primary contest so far, called the former Massachusetts governor both a liar and a liberal.

“I am, in fact, the heir to the Reagan movement, not some liberal from Massachusetts,” Gingrich told a crowd of thousands here at The Villages retirement community.

But it was Romney who claimed momentum as the two leading contenders set off on a final campaign sprint across Florida. An NBC News-Marist poll showed Romney leading Gingrich 42 percent to 27 percent, and a Miami Herald-Tampa Bay Times-El Nuevo Herald poll had Romney with a similar lead, 42 percent to 31 percent.

The poll by the Florida newspapers showed Romney — who lost the primary four years ago to the eventual nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) — ahead in every region of this vast state, though the race appears closest in conservative northern Florida. Romney was running particularly strong among women, where he enjoyed a 19-point lead; among men, the two were roughly tied.

After the Florida primary, the sprint for the GOP nomination will become more of a stroll, and that may work to Romney’s advantage, Chris Cillizza writes:

A Florida win — particularly a convincing one in the double-digit range — would set up Romney very nicely for the slow month of February. He is a clear favorite to win the Nevada caucuses — he took 51 percent of the vote there in 2008, in large part because of the state’s Mormon population — and should be favored in Michigan, the state where he was born and his father served as governor, and Arizona, another state with many Mormons.

That trio of likely Romney wins on the heels of a come-from-behind victory in Florida could bode poorly for Gingrich, who has struggled to bring in money through his own campaign and whose rise has been fueled by the panoply of debates. (The next GOP debate is scheduled for Feb. 22 in Arizona.)

“Candidates need two things to survive: money and attention,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican media consultant. “Newt may not have the money, but he has always had the skill of grabbing attention.”

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