Romney lead crumbles in Florida polls

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney’s once commanding lead in Florida has evaporated, according to polls released today by several firms.

Rasmussen and Insider Advantage both released polls today that put Newt Gingrich far ahead of Romney for the first time since voting began, erasing a 22 point lead Romney had in the most recent Rasmussen poll conducted just under two weeks ago. Rasmussen gave Gingrich 41 percent and Romney 32 percent, and Insider Advantage gave them 34 and 26, respectively.

The polls were conducted after Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary, where former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich came from behind to defeat Romney by 12 points. Gingrich’s campaign was viewed as dead by the middle of last year, but dissatisfaction among conservative Republicans led the revolt against Romney.

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But Romney has long expected to take Florida, which assigns its nominees in a winner-takes-all system. A win by Gingrich there would call into doubt Romney’s long term strategy: "The top finisher gets 50 delegates. That's more than Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina combined," NPR reported.

Nate Silver at the New York Times analyzed the numbers and concluded: "The FiveThirtyEight forecast model, which keys heavily on a candidate’s momentum, now shows a potential double-digit win for Mr. Gingrich in Florida. This is a plausible outcome, and one that could put Mr. Romney’s campaign in grave jeopardy."

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However, in an asterisk, Silver noted though that Romney was ahead before Gingrich’s South Carolina win. 12 percent of Florida voters have already cast their ballots, likely reflecting his numbers from earlier this month.

The Christian Science Monitor reported that more Republican primary voters in Florida now think Gingrich would be the strongest nominee to beat President Barack Obama, robbing Romney of one of his most effective campaign points.

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