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OPINION

Romney, Gingrich tie for Fla. evangelical vote

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP) -- Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich finished in a virtual tie among evangelicals in Florida's Republican primary, with each candidate claiming a small victory depending on which exit poll was used.
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The exit poll used by The Washington Post and The New York Times showed Romney with a 38-37 percent lead among born-again/evangelical Christians of all races, which the newspapers said comprised 47 percent of the electorate. In that exit poll, Rick Santorum received 18 percent of the evangelical vote and Ron Paul 5 percent.

But the exit poll used by CNN and FoxNews had Gingrich ahead, 38-36 percent, among white born-again/evangelical Christians, which made up 40 percent of voters. Santorum was at 19 percent and Paul 5 percent.

Romney's showing among evangelicals helped him win Florida easily, 46 percent to Gingrich's 32 percent, heading into Saturday's Nevada caucuses. Santorum received 13 percent, Paul 7 percent. In South Carolina 10 days earlier, Gingrich won evangelicals by more than 20 points, allowing him to cruise to a win.

The exit polls, while disagreeing on who led among evangelicals, agreed on other data:

-- Romney and Gingrich finished in a virtual tie among those who think abortion should be illegal, with Romney receiving 40 percent, Gingrich 38 percent, Santorum 15 percent and Paul 7 percent. Fifty-nine percent of the GOP electorate was pro-life.

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-- Gingrich won among those who said abortion was their most important issue, getting 43 percent to Santorum's 28 percent and Romney's 25 percent. That segment, though, made up only 7 percent of the electorate.

-- Gingrich won among those who consider themselves "very conservative," 41 percent to Romney's 30 percent. Among those who call themselves "somewhat conservative," Romney won, 52-32 percent.

Romney now has 85 delegates to Gingrich's 27, Paul's 10 and Santorum's 8, according to CNN.com. A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to win the nomination.

Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net

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