The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Florida Republican Primary Voters, taken Wednesday night, shows Romney with 39% support to Gingrich’s 31%. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum earns 12%, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul runs last with nine percent (9%). Four percent (4%) prefer some other candidate, and seven percent (7%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here).
Four days ago, just after the South Carolina Primary, Gingrich led Romney 41% to 32%. Less than two weeks earlier, coming off Romney’s decisive win in the New Hampshire Primary, it was Romney 41%, Gingrich 19% in Florida. Santorum’s and Paul’s support has remained largely the same throughout.
The latest results from Florida are a mirror image of the dynamic found a week ago in South Carolina. In the Palmetto State, the former House speaker was trailing by 14 points on Monday, but following a strong debate performance he had a two-point lead by Wednesday. That 16-point turnaround seemed stunning at the time. Now, in Florida, it’s Romney’s turn. He trailed by nine points in the Sunshine State on Sunday but enjoyed a 17-point comeback by Wednesday.
The race, indeed, has taken an unexpected turn since Quinnipiac conducted its Florida survey last week. As Guy noted yesterday, both Romney and Gingrich were essentially tied, polling at 36 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Today, however, only five days before the Florida primary, Romney is evidently surging ahead of his most formidable rival. (The Insider Advantage poll, which was also released today, confirms this.) And yet, while the results are certainly encouraging for Team Romney, his newfound status as the Republican frontrunner may be short lived.
If anything, the two polls released today underscore the importance of the GOP debates. In Florida, for example, Mitt Romney has risen 17 percentage points since Sunday. Gingrich’s failure to electrify the Republican audience during Monday's debate, perhaps, might explain why he has dropped ten percentage points in four days. Nevertheless, tonight will be the last time each candidate speaks directly to Florida voters from a national stage. And since this is the last debate until February 22, the stakes couldn’t be any higher.
Interestingly, while the vast majority of the electorate has chosen their candidate, nearly one-quarter of likely Republican voters are still open to changing their minds.
Highlighting the fluid nature of the race in Florida is the finding that 24% of likely primary voters say they still could change their minds before the final vote on Tuesday. That’s down from 32% on Sunday. Eight percent (8%) still haven’t made their initial choice. The 69% who are certain how they will vote includes 78% of Gingrich supporters, 74% of Romney voters, 67% of Paul’s backers and 61% of Santorum’s.