Gingrich Leads In Two New Florida Polls
It's Day One of the Battle For Florida.
So much for Mitt Romney’s Florida firewall, at least for now. Up until today, we’d gone for a stretch of at least three weeks where Mitt Romney held substantial leads over the rest of the Republican field. That was before last week’s events, of course, and the rise of Newt Gingrich in the polls. With that week, and Gingrich’s commanding victory, behind us, it would appear that Florida is going to be an even bigger battle than the Palmetto State was. If initial polling is correct, Newt Gingrich has gotten a substantial bump from his win in South Carolina, and Mitt Romney has his work cut out for him.
The first evidence of that comes in a new Insider Advantage poll that shows, for the first time since the beginning of this month, Newt Gingrich in the lead:
Fresh off his victory in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, a new poll shows Newt Gingrich surging into the lead in the next Republican battleground, Florida.
An InsiderAdvantage poll released late Sunday shows the former House Speaker leading his main rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in the Sunshine State with 34 percent support from likely GOP voters to Romney’s 26.
Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) receives 13 percent support for third place in the poll, followed by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 11 percent.
“The poll shows a huge bounce for Newt Gingrich, coming out of South Carolina,” said Matt Towery, chief pollster for InsiderAdvantage.
Towery said the new Florida numbers reflect a Gingrich rise nationally.
“Gingrich has been closing the gap nationally, according to the Gallup tracking poll; Florida is a reflection that Republicans nationally are moving toward Gingrich,” he said.
This morning, Rasmussen released a poll showing Gingrich with a similar lead and post-South Carolina bounce:
Less than two weeks ago, Mitt Romney had a 22-point lead in Florida, but that’s ancient history in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Following his big win in South Carolina on Saturday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich now is on top in Florida by nine.
The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Florida Republican Primary Voters, taken Sunday evening, finds Gingrich earning 41% of the vote with Romney in second at 32%. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum runs third with 11%, while Texas Congressman Ron Paul attracts support from eight percent (8%). Nine percent (9%) remain undecided.(To see survey question wording, click here).
Florida allows early voting, and Romney leads among those voters by 11 points. Gingrich leads by 12 among those who have not yet voted. Fourteen percent (14%) have already cast their vote.
One-in-three (32%) say they still could change their minds before they vote in the January 31 primary. Another nine percent (9%) have no initial preference yet. Fifty-nine percent (59%) are already certain of their vote, including 73% of Romney supporters and 62% of Gingrich voters.
It’s important to keep the early voting issue in mind when watching Florida polling over the next week. Statewide early voting started on Saturday and it started in five counties a week ago. Additionally, absentee ballots have been arriving at Registrars offices for more than a week now. There’s a fairly good chance that this early/absentee voting has been benefiting Romney so far, especially since his campaign appears to be be the only one that was aggressively pursuing these voters before now.
Additionally, despite the fact that he’s now trailing Gingrich (again), there is some good news for Romney in the Rasmussen poll:
Seventy-seven percent (77%) have a favorable opinion of Romney, while 69% say the same of Gingrich. Sixty-four percent (64%) give Santorum positive reviews, but only 33% have a favorable opinion of Paul. In Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Paul did better among non-Republicans than Republicans. In the Florida primary, only registered Republicans are allowed to participate.
By a 45% to 30% margin over Gingrich, Romney is seen as the best candidate to manage the economy. Gingrich has a 54% to 23% edge over the former Massachusetts governor when it comes to who is best qualified to handle national security matters.
As for which candidate is best in terms of social issues, 30% prefer Romney, 30% Gingrich and 23% Santorum.
When asked which candidate has the best personal character, 41% say Romney, 30% Santorum, 11% Gingrich and 10% Paul.
It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that Gingrich has received a bounce from South Carolina. After all, Romney did not have the best of weeks last week, and the debates no doubt got the attention of Republican voters in Florida just as they did in South Carolina. Florida voters also saw the same Romney missteps that the rest of us did. It’s also worth noting that Florida has a closed primary, which means that Romney doesn’t benefit from independent voters (although its worth noting that in the General Elections in both 2008 and 2010, Independents constituted 29% of the Florida Electorate). Additionally, prior to Gingrich’s collapse in the polls on the eve of the Iowa Caucus, he was the one who held a substantial lead in the Sunshine State. To the extent we’re seeing some of those voters coming back to him, it may be that the pundits who saw Florida as strong Romney country, including yours truly, were making the mistake of reading only the immediate polls and making assumptions about the Romney campaign’s organization that turned out not to be true. After South Carolina, I don’t think anyone will be making that mistake again.
On a final note, Public Policy Polling noted on Twitter that their first night of Florida poling post-South Carolina was showing a very tight race:
First night of our Florida polling: Romney and Gingrich are neck and neck.
2 more people picked Mitt than Newt out of about 600 people we polled tonight…that’s how close we’re talking
It will be interesting to see what PPP tells us when their poll is finished. Until then, here’s where the race stands:
The battle in Florida will be one between Romney and Gingrich, mostly because they seem to be the only two candidates with the resources to compete there. And it’s going to be epic.