A consistent theme in the media (not to mention a persistent fear in the “anybody but Romney” camp) is that Mitt could split the conservative vote into small enough slices to knock out wins in the first four states and effectively shut down the nomination process before Groundhog Day. Eight vote margins in Iowa aside, New Hampshire is looking pretty much in the bag and the news out of South Carolina hasn’t been bad either. Now, Quinnipiac University has another far from definite, but still hopeful bit of data for Romney in the Sunshine State.
With 36 percent of Florida Republican likely primary voters, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a double-digit lead three weeks before the nation’s first big-state presidential primary, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. But 54 percent of GOP primary voters say they still might change their mind.
Twelve points back in the Republican pack is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 24 percent, followed by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 16 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey finds. Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul is at 10 percent with 5 percent for Texas Gov. Rick Perry and 2 percent for former ambassador Jon Huntsman. This first look at likely primary voters, a more select group, can’t be compared with earlier surveys of registered voters.
The first caveat to put out there is that this poll was conducted roughly three weeks before the voting takes place in Florida. And as I learned the hard way on the campaign trail, in terms of American politics, that’s roughly enough time for several new mountains to rise and human beings to evolve wings. But with that said, it’s hard to find much in the way of bad news for Mitt in this snapshot.
It’s a poll of likely voters, not registered voters, and Quinnipiac has a fairly solid track record. 36 isn’t a majority by a long shot and a 12 point lead is hardly insurmountable, but the other factor to consider is that this is Florida we’re talking about. It’s one of the most expensive media markets in the country, and fighting a serious air war against Romney is going to require some deep pockets. We’re not going to know for sure how much money Gingrich, Perry and Santorum are sitting on until just before the voting begins – and even then it won’t take into account what they may have picked up after Iowa – but they’ll have to come up with a lot of resources to hit Romney very hard there.
Lower down in the data table, Mitt is tying Gingrich for support among self identified Tea Party supporters and even holding on to a tiny lead with white evangelical Christians. The only sliver of daylight for the rest of the pack is that roughly half say they “might change their mind” before the primary. Santorum looks to have the best chance of benefiting from that because one third of voters still say they haven’t learned enough about him to decide if they like him or not. Conversely, only 9% of voters are unfamiliar with Newt Gingrich, so his numbers may be fairly well locked in.
Either way, I doubt Romney will be boasting and exuding confidence over this… yet. But it’s got to be giving him a warm and fuzzy feeling.