Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has surged ahead of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Florida's Republican presidential primary. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Romney is 14 points ahead of Gingrich, with Ron Paul and Rick Santorum tied at about 11 points. Just last week, Romney and Gingrich were effectively tied.
The tight race has led the candidates to resort to mudslinging to make their case.
Gingrich is calling Romney a "Massachusetts liberal," who is "pretending he's somebody he's not."
The New York Times' Michael Shear reports that Romney continued to hammer Gingrich for his ties to Freddie Mac on the campaign trail Tuesday:
“I think the real reason he hasn’t done so well connecting with the people of Florida is that people actually saw him in those debates, they listened to his background and his experience,” Mr. Romney said of Mr. Gingrich. “They learned, for instance, that he was paid $1.6 million to be a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, and they said that’s not what we want in the White House.”
A recent Miami Herald poll found that line of attack might be working. A solid majority of Republican voters said that Gingrich's ties to the mortgage giant were unfavorable, while voters felt that Romney's ties to Bain Capital were favorable.
The Message War
But the Miami Herald's Marc Caputo said Gingrich's biggest hurdle might be himself.
"Romney certainly won the message war," Caputo told Here & Now's Robin Young. "But it's more than that. Romney had the sense to step out of the way when Gingrich was running around with scissors. You know Gingrich is flailing around with scissors, he tripped, and stabbed himself a bunch of times."
Caputo said that depending on the day of the week, Gingrich seemed to have a different strategy.
"At the beginning of the week, his message was Mitt Romney hires people who used to work for former Governor Charlie Crist. That was Tuesday. Then what happened Wednesday? [Florida Republican Senator] Marco Rubio slapped him around saying you're running an ad calling Mitt Romney anti-immigrant. 'You're basically indicting the entire Republican party's position on immigration - take it down!' Gingrich had to do that, and lost another day," Caputo said.
Infiltrating Campaign Rallies
The candidates are also sending supporters to each other's campaign events to heckle or debate with the candidates.
Caputo says, that's nothing new.
"This is brutal, this is vicious. They do this in Florida, and by the way, they [Republicans] continue to win in general elections," Caputo said.
Long Slog To RNC Convention
New GOP rules mean that states no longer award delegates to the presidential nominating convention on a winner-take-all basis. Instead, delegates will be awarded proportionally to candidates, and that could leave Gingrich with a sizable number of delegates.
And Politico reports that Gingrich isn't going down without a fight:
Previewing his post-Florida message, Gingrich told reporters outside a mega-church here Sunday that he would seek to carry the Anybody But Mitt banner.
“When you take all the non-Romney votes, it’s very likely that at the convention there will be a non-Romney majority and maybe a very substantial one,” he said. “My job is to convert that into a Gingrich majority.”
And that could mean a very long slog to the Republican nomination.
The Associated Press contributed to the reporting.
- Marc Caputo, Miami Herald political reporter
This segment aired on January 30, 2012.