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How Big Is Romney's Florida Lead?

FORT MYERS, FL - Tomorrow is election day here in the Sunshine State, and up-to-the-minute polling indicates that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is poised to win the state's closed (ie, Republicans only) primary election.  Given Florida's winner-take-all status in 2012, Tuesday's victor will reap all 50 of Florida's delegates.  Over the weekend, Dan chronicled Romney's favorable polling trends, but just how far is Romney actually ahead?  A final batch of state surveys paints a somewhat murky picture, with various data points telling remarkably different stories.  If you're a Romney supporter, there's significant evidence that your man could win in a blowout.  Several outlets show the former governor leading by double digits, including Suffolk (20 points),  Survey USA (15 points), and Quinnipiac (14 points):


Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a 43 - 29 percent lead over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich among Republican likely voters in Florida, the nation's first big-state presidential primary, according to Quinnipiac University poll released today. Only 7 percent are undecided, but 24 percent say they might change their mind by tomorrow's election. In today's survey, self-described conservatives go to Romney 40 - 31 percent. He gets 38 percent of white evangelical Christians to Gingrich's 33 percent and wins 40 percent of Tea Party members to Gingrich's 35 percent.  Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum each have 11 percent of likely primary voters today.

If Romney beats Newt among self-described conservatives and Tea Partiers, that result could sound the death knell of the Gingrich campaign.  However, two other polls show the race much closer -- and possibly tightening.  First, PPP's numbers, which reflect a single-digit Romney edge, largely bolstered by moderates and women:

Mitt Romney leads with 39% to 32% for Newt Gingrich with Rick Santorum at 14% and Ron Paul at 11%. Romney and Santorum are both down a single point from Saturday's polling while Paul has gained 2 points and Gingrich has stayed in place. Almost Romney's entire lead in Florida is coming from moderate voters. He has a 58-15 lead over Gingrich with them and only a 1 point advantage with the rest of the electorate. Other groups that continue to be a particular source of strength for Romney are seniors (48-32) and women (43-30).


The bad news for Team Newt?  A lot of Florida Republicans voted early (as many as 600,000 ballots have already been cast down here), and a large bulk of those tallies went to Romney:

Romney continues to have a large lead in the bank in Florida. 34% of our respondents said they'd already voted and with those folks he has a 45-33 lead.  That puts Gingrich in a position where he'd have to not only win the election day vote, but win it by 6 or 7 points to upset Romney in the state. The kind of reversal necessary to make that happen seems unlikely to occur in the next 48 hours.

The most promising data for Newt backers comes via Insider Advantage.  Gingrich's camp blasted out this poll in a press email earlier today:

A new InsiderAdvantage poll conducted Sunday night of likely Republican voters in the state of Florida shows a significant surge for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The poll has former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leading with 36 percent of voters, followed by Gingrich at 31 percent. "The race will be tighter than expected," Matt Towery, chief pollster of InsiderAdvantage [said]. "The trend is favoring Gingrich," Towery said, noting that while Romney's lead was still outside the margin of error of 3.8 percent, "It's not by much."


To recap, Romney leads in every poll -- and may have a substantial early vote advantage in his back pocket to fend off any potential last-minute Newt surge -- but his projected margin of victory is all over the map.  Team Mitt is either coasting to a double-digit landslide, or gutting out a close-shave win, a distinction that could be the difference between "destroying" Newt and emboldening his plan to press ahead to Round Five and beyond.  We'll see tomorrow tomorrow evening.  One undeniable factor: The Romney forces have massively outspent pro-Newt groups (and everyone else, for that matter) here in Florida:

Newt Gingrich has been outspent on the Florida airwaves by a nearly $12 million margin, according to a source monitoring the Sunshine State ad war. Through Friday, the Romney campaign and the super PAC Restore Our Future had spent a combined $15,340,000, the source said. Gingrich’s campaign and the super PAC Winning Our Future spent a comparatively paltry $3,390,000. That’s just the differential in paid-media spending, so it doesn’t include Romney’s edge in field operations, mail, et cetera.

I can attest that pro-Romney and anti-Gingrich ads have been ubiquitous across both the AM and FM radio dial, and up and down broadcast and cable television over the last few days.  Newt has been complaining bitterly about this disparity on the stump, prompting Rush Limbaugh to issue an anti-"whining" rebuke on today's radio program.


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