Newt Gingrich swaggered into Florida as a Republican front-runner, but now he’s close to slipping out as an also-ran against a resurgent Mitt Romney.
Gingrich is badly trailing Romney by 11 percentage points, garnering just 31 percent of likely Republican voters heading into Tuesday’s presidential primary, according to a Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll released late Saturday night.
President Barack Obama should be wary as well. Romney beats Obama by a 48-44 percent spread — a lead inside the error-margin, however — in a theoretical general-election matchup, the poll shows.
In the Republican primary, Romney’s lead looks insurmountable. It cuts across geographic, ethnic and gender lines. And the poll indicates Romney’s attack on Gingrich as a Freddie Mac insider is a hit with GOP voters.
“What does Gingrich need to do? I would say Romney would need to implode,” said Brad Coker, pollster with Mason Dixon Research & Associates, which conducted the survey from Tuesday through Thursday.
“If there’s no 11th hour surprise,” Coker said, “this race is looking right now like it’s over.”
Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — who did not campaign in Florida — are running well behind and have little chance of pulling into serious contention in the nation’s largest swing state, which holds 50 of the 1,144 delegates needed to help secure the GOP’s nomination at this summer’s convention in Tampa.
Late Saturday, former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain endorsed Newt Gingrich, but it's unclear how that could help Gingrich make up such a big deficit.
Romney is running strongest in Southeast Florida, from the Keys to the Treasure Coast. About half of all voters favor him here. Gingrich gets about a quarter of the vote. Similarly, 52 percent of Hispanic voters favor Romney, compared to just 28 percent who support Gingrich.
Hispanic voters, namely Cuban Americans, have played an outsized role in this election. They account for 72 percent of registered Republicans in Miami-Dade, the state’s most-populous county with about 368,000 GOP voters.
“I’m going to vote for Romney because I think he’s a dedicated businessman,” said Juan Perez, a 69-year-old Cuban Republican and former Port of Miami worker. “At least he has made his own money and is a capable businessman. He is also an ethical and moral man.”
Hispanics account for up to 14 percent of the total ballots cast in a GOP primary in Florida. But they can be pivotal, especially in Miami-Dade, home to nearly 60 percent of all Hispanic Republicans. Miami-Dade’s vote accounted for about half of John McCain’s 2008 statewide margin over Romney in 2008, and it gave Mel Martinez about 90,000 more votes than Bill McCollum in the 2004 Republican Senate race.
As a result, the candidates spent an inordinate amount of time in Miami this past week, visiting the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday and then returning Friday to the Hispanic Leadership Network and the Latin Builders Association. Romney could be in Cuban-heavy Hialeah on Sunday.
“The Cuban voters here will probably be more homogenous in how they vote than in other parts of the state,” said Dave Custin, a top-tier Miami-Dade political consultant.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Poll: Romney holds big lead over Gingrich in Florida - Florida