Florida primary smackdown: Have Gingrich and Romney forgotten Obama?

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been smacking each other pretty hard on the campaign trail. Their favorability ratings are down, but that doesn't mean President Obama can rest easy.

Carlos Osorio/AP
President Barack Obama greets supporters after his speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday.

In the runup to Tuesday’s primary in Florida, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich – and the super political-action committees that support them – have been smacking each other pretty hard.

In fact, a sky-high 92 percent of the ads aired in the past week have been negative, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks ad spending and content. Mr. Romney and his super PAC, Restore Our Future, spent $12 million on ads alone, four times what Mr. Gingrich and his super PAC, Winning Our Future, spent.

Team Romney wants to make sure we know that the former House speaker had to pay a big penalty for his House ethics investigation; left the speakership in disgrace; and made $1.6 million  as a “historian” (cue the sarcasm) for controversial mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Team Gingrich portrays Romney as a Swiss bank account-owning, Goldman Sachs-investing, home-foreclosure-supporting darling of the Washington establishment. That follows on the infamous Gingrich super PAC ad attacking Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, which invests in and restructures companies – and, yes, sometimes lays people off.

The intense fire trained at each other has left precious little time for attacks on the ultimate target, President Obama. And even if Romney wins on Tuesday, as predicted, his campaign is pledging to keep up the pressure on Mr. Gingrich, lest the former speaker rise yet again from the political dead.

All of this negativity has come at a price. Americans view Gingrich’s private sector experience unfavorably by a wide margin, 54 percent to 24 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday. Romney’s private sector experience fares better, but is still a net negative, with 40 percent viewing it negatively and 35 percent positively.

Overall, Romney is viewed favorably by 31 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 49 percent, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll released last week. Last September, more Americans viewed Romney favorably than unfavorably.

Romney fares even worse among independents. Last week, he was viewed favorably by only 23 percent of independents, compared with a favorable rating in the mid-40s last November, according to the poll.

But Mr. Obama can hardly rest easy.

“As of now, anyway, Romney may be bruised, but the primary fight has not administered anything like a knockout blow to his general election prospects,” writes William Galston, a former policy adviser to President Clinton, in The New Republic.

Mr. Galston points to new Gallup poll numbers out Monday that show Obama and Romney in a statistical dead heat – Romney 48, Obama 47 – in 12 swing states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Nationally, the race is tied 48-48.

But if there’s one measure that Obama scores well on it’s empathy. Some 55 percent of registered voters say that Obama understands “the problems of average Americans” either “very well” (30 percent) or “fairly well” (24 percent), according to a poll out Monday by the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center. Forty-one percent gave Obama negative marks.

Romney fares less well than Obama on empathy. Only 39 percent of voters say he understands the problems of average Americans and 48 percent say he does not.

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