Poll still puts Romney ahead in Florida

In yet another sign that the many GOP debates have largely affected the opinions of Republican primary voters, a new American Research Group poll released this morning shows a significant shift in the dynamics of the GOP race in Florida after Monday night’s abysmal NBC debate.

The poll, which was conducted Monday and Tuesday (half before and half after the debate), shows Mitt Romney with a 38 percent to 34 percent lead among voters polled Monday, but with a 51 percent to 39 percent lead among voters polled Tuesday. Overall, the poll indicates that Mitt Romney currently leads the state 41 percent to 34 percent.

Newt Gingrich, known for his prodigious debating skills, did have a surprisingly poor showing at the NBC debate Monday night, while Mitt Romney demonstrated new determination to cut Gingrich down. “Frankly,” much of the blame for Gingrich’s lackluster performance — and for the dreary presentations of all the candidates — lies with the NBC moderators, who failed to provide substantive questions and frequently phrased their queries in obviously biased language. Nevertheless, it’s no surprise that Gingrich dipped slightly with Floridians in this poll after the debate. Bet Romney’s glad he decided to participate in the Florida debates, after all, huh? (After South Carolina, he really had no choice — but no matter.)

As every day in the political news world proves, though, one poll is by no means conclusive — and this one is best balanced by the remembrance that Quinnipiac recently showed Gingrich surging in Florida after his South Carolina victory and Rasmussen showed Gingrich leading Romney nationally. This is somewhat of an aberration from the general polling trend.

Additionally, the candidates will have another chance to compete on the debate stage in the Sunshine State when CNN hosts a debate Thursday night. So far, the CNN debates have been fairly well-produced and, after Monday’s quiet affair, the candidates will probably aim to be particularly lively. I expect Gingrich to draw clear contrasts between Romney and himself on issues of special importance to Floridians — like health care and immigration — as, indeed, we’ve already seen him do. The polls Friday morning might reflect a completely different picture.