Here’s what’s at stake today in Florida: Will Mitt Romney get a quick start at spending millions of dollars attacking Barack Obama in key swing states — or does he have to dilute his message by spending the next few months dealing with Newt Gingrich?
The polling appears to offer little hope for the disgraced former Speaker in Florida, and that includes polls of those who have already cast their ballots in early voting. Romney is going to win. But as Nate Silver reports, the spread of polling is wide enough that there’s considerable uncertainty about the size of his win.
All of this matters because it will help determine how the Romney campaign operates in the next five weeks, through Super Tuesday on March 6. If it’s a 20-point blowout in Florida, Team Romney probably pivots off Newt completely, realizing that if Gingrich ever does win another state it’s easy to clobber him again, just as they did effectively in Iowa and Florida. What that means is the Romney campaign can then spend five weeks directing heavy fire at the White House in key swing states with upcoming GOP primaries that will also be important in the general election. If Romney is a lock for the nomination, the Romney campaign can mostly ignore Newt in states such as Nevada, Colorado, Michigan and Ohio, and begin laying the groundwork in them for the general election.
However, if Romney’s win is relatively narrow — say, close to five points — then he’s probably going to feel obliged to worry more about the nomination. Instead of ads about (fictional) apology tours and how the economy supposedly is worse now than when Obama took office, he’ll be running ads in those states, at least to some extent, about the 1997 coup against Newt and Newt’s lobbying for Freddie Mac and the like.
If it’s a close general election then Romney’s late start in those states could matter. The Romney campaign would much rather be hitting Obama than Gingrich right now…and you can be sure that Team Obama would prefer Republican squabbling to linger. So as much as we don’t expect any surprise from the order of finish in Florida tonight, it’s still a primary that could make some difference to the eventual outcome.