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Gingrich Has Momentum Heading Into Florida Primaries

Romney loses frontrunner status as slide continues

Published Wednesday, January 25, 2012 2:06 am
photo by Gage Skidmore

BRADENTON Coming off a big win in South Carolina and polling out front here in the Sunshine State, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich seems to have the momentum heading into Florida's presidential primary on January 31. After winning South Carolina by a wide margin, a recent Rasmussen poll has him nearly 10 points ahead of Romney at 41 and 31 percent respectively.

Romney's slide has also now extended into the national polls, where he is also plunging, having dropped 10 points to fall behind the former House Speaker. As the two prospective candidates continue to wage a bloody battle, President Obama seems to have gained the most, as his favorability ratings recently hit a one-year high this month, climbing to 53 percent in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, as he headed into last night's State of the Union address. Gingrich was in Sarasota for a well-attended stump speech yesterday and did not even name Romney, focusing his attack squarely on the President.

South Carolina's size and winner take all delegate procedure gave Gingrich the delegate lead, as well as the popular vote total so far. Gingrich has 23 delegates, while Romney has 19, Santorum 12 and Paul 3, but keep in mind that there are 2,285 total delegates, which means a candidate has to secure 1,144 of them to lock down the nomination. In the GOP's system, some of the states pledge the delegates proportionately, while others are committed to giving all of them to the winner.

While Florida has been penalized half of their 99 delegates for moving their primary ahead of the earliest allowed date this year, they still will have the most delegates up for grabs so far, in another winner-take-all event. Nevertheless, with a four-man race likely to go on for some time, it is conceivable that the race will not be won until California awards its 172 delegates in early June.

Polling data presents a complicated picture for Gingrich. Always a polarizing figure, just as many voters seem to disapprove of him as do approve. He struggles with independents, but has gained considerable ground with Tea Partiers and Evangelicals. Where he clearly polls best is in Republican voter's belief in who can most likely beat President Obama in the fall -- a confidence Romney has been largely unable to inspire.

When an even closer look is taken, it seems that Gingrich and Santorum are the candidates whose supporters are most favorable of the other, meaning it is most likely that if anyone is splitting a certain voting bloc, it is the two of them, and either stands the greatest chance of a significant bump from a candidate's exit, should the other decide to drop out though that seems unlikely in either case at least right now.

Congressman Ron Paul's supporters poll as the least flexible, indicating that their support would be least likely to go to another candidate, should he exit the race. It also means that his supporters are least likely to flea in light of a bad performance in states like South Carolina or Florida, where he lacks broad support, which could help him on February 28 when both Michigan and Arizona go to the polls two states where Paul has polled well.

 Mitt Romney seems to have a certain base of supporters that sits beneath a flexible amount of lukewarm support that was ready to rally behind him as the presumptive candidate, while remaining open to nearly any scenario where they feel they can viably nominate someone else. Romney has suffered large and almost continuous fluctuations in the polls that seem to have less to do with him, then the desire to audition alternatives.

If Gingrich wins Florida by a margin similar to the Rasmussen poll, that leaves Governor Romney one for four in the early primaries, which might be all Republicans need to fully swallow the notion that he's unelectable in a general election. At the same time, if poor performances in the next couple of contests by Santorum do manage to cause his exit, it might be enough to help the surging Gingrich pull away for good.

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