Elections 2012: Romney Widens Lead Over Gingrich in Florida, According to New Polls

White House hopeful Mitt Romney widened his lead over rival Newt Gingrich to 11 percentage points in Florida, according to Reuters/Ipsos online poll results on Saturday, up from 8 points a day earlier, as he cemented his front-runner status in the Republican nomination race.

Mitt Romney has moved ahead of Newt Gingrich in several Florida polls, after turning in his strongest debate performance yet in the seesawing race for the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic President Barack Obama's bid for re-election in November. Photo: Mitt Romney/Flickr

With just three days remaining before Florida’s Republican primary, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, led Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, by 43 percent to 32 percent among likely voters in Florida’s January 31 primary, the online poll said.

According to Reuters, the poll confirmed that Romney’s fortunes are turning around in Florida a week after a stinging setback when Gingrich scored an upset win in South Carolina’s primary.

The Reuters/Ipsos survey showed Romney also gained when voters were asked who they would support in a head-to-head contest with Gingrich. Saturday’s results showed that 53 percent would support him, versus 45 percent for Gingrich.

Over the past week as Romney has outperformed Gingrich at two debates and as he and outside groups have outspent Gingrich on the TV airwaves, he has moved back ahead of Gingrich in the polls, and now looks set to win Florida’s 50 delegates on Tuesday.

Sure, Romney would probably still do well in the first week of February even if Gingrich won Florida. Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) are far ahead of Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) in organizing for the four caucuses in Maine, Nevada, Minnesota and Colorado.

But Gingrich’s momentum would likely be so strong that it would overshadow any meager wins for Romney in the caucus states, preserving the former speaker’s status as the frontrunner.

Gingrich has pointed to Gallup’s national tracking poll, which on Friday showed him leading Romney 32 percent to 24 percent among Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters.

But as quickly as polling numbers have moved up and down in the states where Romney and Gingrich are fighting hand to hand, the national polling numbers have been seen as a lagging indicator instead of a leading one, reports The Huff Post.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum trailed well behind with 16 percent support, but he had gained ground from 13 percent in Friday’s results.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul was at 6 percent, up from 5 percent. The small-government libertarian has not been campaigning in Florida.

“If Newt had won Florida then he might have been able to become the frontrunner, but that’s not what’s happened,” Charlie Black, a veteran Republican political consultant and a Washington lobbyist, told The Huffington Post. “Romney’s going to win it and have great momentum going into a friendly calendar.”

It’s also not clear how long Gingrich will continue receiving financial support, indirectly, from Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson and his wife have now contributed $10 million to a super PAC supporting Gingrich, which has allowed Gingrich to stay somewhat competitive on TV with Romney.

Florida lets voters cast their ballots early at polling stations or by mail, and 30 percent of the poll respondents said they had done so, compared with 29 percent on Friday.

Romney held a 12-point lead among those who had already voted, and an 11-point lead among those who had not yet voted.

On Saturday, Romney supporters authorized by the campaign to speak on behalf of the candidate — known in the political world as “surrogates” — began to frame the Gingrich campaign as running out of steam already.

“If you look here, there’s almost nobody at this,” said Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), a Romney endorser, who attended Gingrich’s Hispanic Town Hall event in Orlando and gestured around at the lackluster attendance. “This is — there’s almost no one here.”

Four states will hold caucuses in early February: Nevada on Feb. 4, Colorado and Minnesota on Feb. 7, and Maine’s Republicans for a week with results to announced on Feb. 11.

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