First, the raw numbers: CNN has Romney up by two, and Insider Advantage -- which has been churning out pretty Newt-friendly results recently -- puts Mitt up by eight. The CNN/Time data contains good news for both camps, and again shows that the race is exceptionally fluid:
According to the poll, 36% of people likely to vote in Tuesday's Republican primary in the Sunshine State say they are backing Romney as the party's nominee, with 34% supporting Gingrich. The former Massachusetts governor's two point margin over the former House speaker is well within the survey's sampling error. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is at 11% and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is at 9%, with 7% unsure.
That's a dead heat. Here's the fun part for Newt backers:
"In the wake of his double-digit victory in the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich has nearly doubled his support in Florida," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "The current numbers are the result of some wild swings for and against the two frontrunners." Gingrich was at 18% support in Florida and trailed Romney by 25 points in CNN's last poll in the state, which was conducted Jan. 13-17.
On the other hand, Romney seems to have stanched the bleeding and may have reversed the trend back in his favor:
On Sunday, the day after Gingrich won big in South Carolina, he was at 38% in Florida, with Romney at 36%, Santorum at 11% and Paul at 8%. Looking only at Monday and Tuesday's results, Romney was at 38%, Gingrich 29% Santorum at 11% and Paul at 9%.
What's so exhillarating and terrifying about this race is that tonight's debate here in Jacksonville stands a good chance of turning all of these statistics inside-out, all over again. Yes, the last sequence of debates have proven to be that impactful -- for better or for worse. Newt took a beating from Romney over influence peddling in Tampa on Monday, and seemed shackled by NBC's moratorium on audience participation. You'd better believe that CNN will maintain the opposite policy tonight, and Newt will be out for blood. Will he find his footing again, or flail? We'll find out soon enough, then wait impatiently for a new batch of polls. These ones will be outdated and useless by the end of the night. Think about it: Doesn't Monday's debate already seem like ancient history? Welcome to 2012's topsy-turvey, hyper-drive campaign.
UPDATE - In the 18 hours I've been here, I've seen a fair number of ads (more for Romney than Gingrich), but they haven't been non-stop. Televised ads were the difference -- between the current frontrunners, at least -- in Iowa, but seemed to take a back seat to debates in South Carolina. Which trend will win in Florida? Here's a spot I've seen down here, produced by a pro-Romney SuperPAC:
This line of criticism has picked up steam recently. Romney zapped Newt on the Reagan diary point on Monday, and the Elliott Abrams piece I wrote about yesterday filled in a few more blanks. Parting thought: Is there a moon colonization lobby, and do they have the funds to counter attacks against their visionary?