(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) — Call it a ping-pong match or the swing of the pendulum, however you want to describe the volatile race in Florida, Mitt Romney now seems to have the upper hand.
Just days ago, it looked like Newt Gingrich might have enough momentum coming out of South Carolina to claim the top prize in the Sunshine State. But with four full days of campaigning to go until next Tuesday’s primary, Gingrich’s star seems to be fading.
Romney has opened up a 38 to 29 percent lead over Gingrich among Republican likely voters in Florida, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday. Compare that to the results of a poll taken just days ago showing Romney with 36 percent of likely primary voters to Gingrich’s 34 percent.
“Of course, with four days before Election Day, there is time for another reversal,” Quinnipiac pollster Peter A. Brown said. “Three in 10 voters say they might change their mind.”
But it’s unlikely that between now and Tuesday Gingrich will have a better chance than he had Thursday night to break through and the debate was an enormous missed opportunity for him. It was Romney who pulled the attack dog rug right out from under Gingrich’s feet.
And it was Romney who finally looked like a candidate who wants to win this election, experts say. He was aggressive and disciplined, and never allowed Gingrich to get the upper hand.
Several of Romney’s answers were as knife-sharp as we’ve seen at any debate during the primary season, particularly his laundry list of projects, including the lunar colony, that Gingrich has proposed.
“In South Carolina, it was a new interstate highway, and dredging the port in Charleston. In New Hampshire, it was burying a power line coming in from Canada and building a new VHA hospital in New Hampshire so that people don’t have to go to Boston,” Romney said. “This idea of going state to state and promising what people want to hear, promising billions, hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that’s what got us into the trouble we’re in now.”
“A big idea,” Romney concluded, is not always “a good idea.”
Gingrich, by comparison, fell flat. The fired up and aggressive Newt we saw on the campaign trail this week was not on the stage last night. In his place was a passive and hesitant candidate. Even his attempt at turning the audience against the moderator didn’t work.
With the debates now history, the fight to win the fourth nominating state will largely be waged on the ground as the campaign machines of both candidates try to drive turnout on Tuesday and engage in a fierce war on airwaves. Without the political winds at his back, Gingrich could fall prey to Romney’s superior resources and organization.
Neither of those were enough to guarantee him wins in Iowa or South Carolina, but they might be in Florida.
The Florida Debate in 60 Seconds
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