Mitt Romney: From South Carolina loss to big Florida surge

Energized by two recent debates and powered by a campaign war chest that’s allowed him to blanket the state with ads attacking Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney has surged in late polling.

By , Staff writer

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    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns at Sugden Plaza in Naples, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012.
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In the final days and hours before the Republican primary in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich surged ahead in the polls, leaving Mitt Romney scrambling to make the best of an increasingly losing situation. Romney got shellacked in that race, losing to Gingrich by nearly 13 points.

Going into Florida, the next big contest and one that’s worth more convention delegates than all three of the previous races combined, the reverse has happened.

Energized by his more aggressive performance in two Florida debates, and powered by a campaign war chest that’s allowed him to blanket the state’s media markets with attack ads, Romney has surged in late polling.

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A survey by the Tampa Bay Times, the Miami Herald, and two Florida TV stations has Romney ahead, 42 percent to 31 percent. Public Policy Polling finds “strong movement away from Newt Gingrich and toward Mitt Romney.” PPP’s latest poll (out Saturday) gives Romney an eight-point edge (40-32). An NBC/Marist poll released Sunday gives Romney a 15-point lead (42-27).

“It's clear that the negative attacks on Gingrich have been the major difference maker over the last week,” reports PPP. “His net favorability has declined 13 points in just five days. Romney has pretty much stayed in place.”

Gingrich got what could be important backing over the weekend from two tea party superstars – Sarah Palin and Herman Cain. Palin in particular has been trying to counter the sharp anti-Gingrich assertions of such establishment Republicans as former Sen. Bob Dole, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Sen. John McCain, who (referencing Romney’s great wealth) calls Gingrich a “desperate candidate who attacks someone who succeeds in the free-enterprise system.”

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Although she hasn’t officially endorsed Gingrich (as Cain has), Palin is firing back on Fox News and social media. 

“We have witnessed something very disturbing this week,” Palin writes in a Facebook message headlined “Cannibals in GOP Establishment Employ Tactics of the Left.” “The Republican establishment which fought Ronald Reagan in the 1970s and which continues to fight the grassroots Tea Party movement today has adopted the tactics of the left in using the media and the politics of personal destruction to attack an opponent.”

That opponent, she goes on, is Newt Gingrich – the man who “brought the Reagan Revolution into the 1990s.”

Money is a major factor in the Florida race for Republican primary votes, and it’s clear that Romney has the advantage. Huffington Post political reporter Paul Blumenthal lays out the scene:

“The biggest spender in Florida – the most expensive state in the Republican primary to date – has been the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. Run by a trio of former Romney advisers, the group has spent $10.7 million in the state. The vast majority of that – $9.9 million – has gone into a barrage of ads, on television and radio, and direct mail attacking Gingrich. That's more than double what pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future is spending in Florida.”

On the Sunday TV talk shows, Gingrich called that “carpet bombing,” and he accused Romney of flat out lying, both in this past week’s two debates in Florida and in his campaign ads.

“I don’t know how you debate a person when he stands there and blatantly just doesn’t tell the truth,” Gingrich said on Fox News Sunday. "He just tries to tear down whoever he's running against, and it has an effect.”

“We're in a very tough campaign down here,” Gingrich said. That’s a point on which all can agree.

Election 101: Ten questions about Newt Gingrich as a presidential candidate

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