(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) — With the Florida primary creeping up in just five days, it’s now or never for Newt Gingrich.
The former House Speaker will need a strong performance at Thursday night’s debate in Jacksonville, Fla. — the final face-to-face meeting between all four candidates before voters go to the polls on Tuesday — in order to stall his main rival, Mitt Romney.
Poll numbers out on Wednesday indicate Gingrich’s momentum may be ebbing in the Sunshine State after a first-place finish in the South Carolina primary last weekend.
Not only that, he’s getting pummeled on the airwaves by Romney’s campaign and by a pro-Romney super PAC, which are spending millions to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of Florida voters about Gingrich’s “erratic” behavior, his record in Congress, and his work for the mortgage finance company, Freddie Mac, among other things. And it looks like the effort is paying off.
A new CNN–Time Magazine-Opinion Research Corporation poll out late Wednesday finds Romney and Gingrich in a statistical dead heat in Florida. And although the survey shows Gingrich taking a large bite out of Romney’s lead in the state just within the last week, there’s an unmistaken trend line that should be cause for concern at Gingrich headquarters.
On the first day voters were polled (Sunday), Gingrich was up 38 percent to 32 percent, but on the second two days (Monday and Tuesday), it was Romney who had the advantage — 38 percent to 29 percent.
Futhermore, a new Quinnipiac University poll out on Thursday shows that in a hypothetical general election matchup Romney would be the stronger candidate to run against President Obama — at least as far as Florida voters are concerned. Romney and Obama are tied at 45 percent a piece while the president leads Gingrich 50 percent to 39 percent among registered voters.
All four candidates will meet Thursday night at 8 p.m. for a debate hosted by CNN, the Republican Party of Florida and the Hispanic Leadership Network.
Ron Paul is not competing actively in Florida and Rick Santorum’s poll numbers are so low, he looks out of contention. So, Gingrich and Romney will likely have the stage mostly to themselves to make their closing pitches to voters and make an impression that will no doubt stick with Floridians as they cast their ballots next week.
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