Yesterday evening, Suffolk University released a poll of likely voters in Florida — but not for the Republican primary.  Instead, they surveyed 600 likely Florida voters in the general election, and found some interesting dynamics in a state that will be crucial to the strategies of both parties in the Electoral College fight:

Despite Newt Gingrich’s momentum within the Republican Party, he would be a weaker contender than Mitt Romney in a general election contest against President Barack Obama, according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WSVN-Miami) poll of likely voters in Florida.

Romney led Obama by 47 percent to 42 percent in the Florida survey, while Obama topped Gingrich by 9 points, 49 percent to 40 percent. Among independents, Obama led Romney 44 percent to 38 percent and opened up a 56 percent to 29 percent advantage over Gingrich. Gingrich grabbed 12 percent of registered Democrats, while Romney secured 18 percent of registered Democrats.

“Newt Gingrich is weak among Florida independents and likely Democratic voters compared to Romney,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “If Florida is one of six key states that swings the national election, independents in Florida hold that key, and this poll suggests that Newt won’t be able to secure Florida for his party.”

That’s a difference of 14 points between the two head-to-head matchups (Romney +5, Gingrich -9).  This poll comes as Gingrich’s momentum has slowed with Republicans in the state, and it reflects the wide disparity in favorability between the two men in Florida.  Mitt Romney has a positive but somewhat weak 44/37 favorability rating, but Gingrich’s is deeply negative at exactly a 2:1 ratio, 29/58 in a sample that is only a D+4, 41/37/23.   Barack Obama’s job approval rating among likely Florida voters is only a 40/49, which means that Obama only outperforms his job approval by two against Romney but nine against Gingrich.  Obama’s favorability numbers are also underwater at 47/48, which means voters aren’t inclined toward him anyway.

Plenty of speculation surrounds Marco Rubio as a running mate for Republicans to help keep Florida in the red column in November, but the Suffolk poll suggests that may be a bad idea.  The survey only polled head-to-head with running mates with Romney as the nominee, and adding Rubio makes it a slightly closer race.  As popular as Rubio is with conservatives nationwide, his favorability in Florida is just 43/32 — not bad, but not explosively great either.  Romney goes from a +5 at 47/42 against Obama to a +2 for a Romney-Rubio vs Obama-Biden ticket.  If Obama picks Hillary Clinton to replace Joe Biden, it swings the polling significantly to a seven-point lead over Romney-Rubio, 49/42.  Interestingly, having Chris Christie on the ticket for Romney makes it a one-point race with Biden or Clinton on the ticket for Obama, although with Clinton, Obama gets a one-point lead rather than a deficit.

Gingrich might still win a Florida primary, which is closed to all but Republicans, but he’s going to make it significantly more difficult to win Florida in a general election, unless his numbers change a lot.