A Gingrich-Obama matchup? It's getting tighter, polls show

Newt Gingrich looks increasingly competitive against President Obama in three key battleground states, new polls show. And registered Republicans in those states prefer him to Mitt Romney.

Chris Keane/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at a forum for local business leaders at the Pacific Gateway Capital Group in Greenville, S.C., on Thursday.

Maybe Newt Gingrich isn’t so unelectable after all. New Quinnipiac polls of general election voters in three key battleground states released Thursday show the former House speaker increasingly competitive against President Obama next November, if Mr. Gingrich wins the Republican nomination.

In Florida, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney beats Mr. Obama 45 percent to 42 percent, but Gingrich isn’t too far off the mark. He trails Obama with 44 percent of the Florida vote, compared with 46 percent for Obama, within the margin of error, according to the Quinnipiac University Poll, based in Hamden, Conn.

In Ohio, Romney and Gingrich pull down the exact same numbers against Obama. Each Republican gets 43 percent versus 42 for Obama.

Pennsylvania is Obama’s strongest state of the three, narrowly beating Romney 46 percent to 43 percent, and beating Gingrich handily, 48 percent to 40 percent.

Those three states, all rich in electoral votes, comprise the trifecta of modern presidential politics. Since 1960, no one has won the White House without winning at least two of them.

In those three states, Gingrich beats Romney handily for the GOP nomination, though only Florida holds its primary early in the nominating calendar. Florida Republicans vote on Jan. 31, after Iowa (Jan. 3), New Hampshire (Jan. 10), and South Carolina (Jan. 21). In Florida, Gingrich beats Romney 35 percent to 22 percent. In Ohio, Gingrich beats him 36 to 18 percent. And in Pennsylvania, the former speaker is up 31-17. No other candidate scores in double digits.

Quinnipiac’s numbers reflect the national trend of Gingrich solidifying his lead among GOP voters. The latest Gallup national tracking numbers show Gingrich ahead with 36 percent and Romney second with 23 percent. But more important are the numbers in early-nominating states, where success can change the shape of the race overnight. New data out from CNN/Time show Gingrich winning Iowa with 33 percent, compared with 20 percent for Romney and 17 percent for Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

New Hampshire remains Romney’s sole stronghold of the first four states, at 35 percent, though Gingrich is closing in on him with 26 percent, according to CNN/Time. In South Carolina, CNN/Time has Gingrich way ahead of Romney, 43 percent to 20 percent.

But with less than four weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, nothing is certain. Four years ago at this time, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led the Republican field.

“Gingrich certainly has the momentum on his side and is peaking at the right moment, but Romney has the edge in money and organization, which can be important especially if the primary race turns out to be a long, drawn-out affair,” writes Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in an analysis.

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