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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Buzz's Fla Insider Poll predictions: Romney favored in Fla, extended primary expected



Newt Gingrich may be riding a wave of momentum three weeks before voting starts in Florida, but among Florida's most experienced political pros Mitt Romney remains the heavy favorite to win Florida's primary, according our latest Florida Insider Poll.

More than six in 10 of the nearly 100 veteran Florida politicos who participated in the survey predict Romney will win Florida's primary, while slightly more than one third predicted Gingrich. Among Republicans, more than three out of four expect Romney will win Florida and just 14 percent predict Gingrich.

"Republicans want to nominate a perceived winner to go up against the President.  Despite grumbling by the R activist base that the moderate former Mass.Governor is “not conservative enough,” Romney’s well- funded, well-organized  campaign and  polished debate performances will carry the day over a sometimes erratic and bagged-laden Newt," said one Republican. "Too, danger signals flash as Newt enters primary season without a professional campaign organization already in place."

Romney, of course, is the establishment's preferred candidate in the race and our Florida Insider Poll tends to be dominated by party establishment types - fundraisers, campaign professionals, lobbyists, quite a few of whom are helping or working for Romney. More than two thirds of respondents say Romney is the strongest candidate to take on President Obama, while 24 percent said Jon Huntsman, and just 5 percent say Gingrich.

Republicans were only slightly more impressed with Gingrich's general election potential, with 62 percent pegging Romney as the strongest candidate, 20 percent saying Huntsman, and 10 percent Gingrich.

State GOP leaders bucked the national party's sanctioned nominating calendar by scheduling a Jan. 31 primary to ensure Florida has a major say in picking the nominee. At least half the votes will likely be cast by primary day, however, with overseas military ballots to be sent Dec. 16, absentee ballots on Dec. 27, and early voting starting Jan. 21.

Four years ago, Florida's January primary effectively clinched the nomination for John McCain but, strikingly, our insiders have serious doubts that Florida will settle things. More than two thirds expect the nomination contest will continue "well
beyond Jan. 31 and 32 percent saying Florida will decide the nominee.

With greater financial resources and a stronger campaign team, Romney would seem to be best equipped to handle a nominating battle that extends into March, April or beyond. While 62 percent of our Florida Insiders expect Romney to win Florida's primary, 75 percent expect he will wind up the eventual nominee.

"I think Newt would have a shot if he had any organization in FL at all, but he doesn't," said one Republican. "Newt will show well in a couple states but if FL doesn't force him out it won't be long after."

Momentum from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will be critical in shaping the primary in Florida, a state so vast that grass roots campaign organizations matter much less than in other states.. That's good news for Gingrich, as he has no paid staff in Florida yet.

Romney has relatively few paid staffers in Florida compared to 2008, but eight in 10 our our respondents said he has the strongest campaign organization in the state. How important is that? One third of our Insiders said it was "very important" and 56 percent said it was "somewhat important."

Typically I would say that organization matters a lot, particularly in a close race and on the margins, but something odd is happening this cycle - the field is so fluid and voters are still very uncertain," said a Republican. "It is possible then for a candidate with almost no organization, but with momentum coming out of other early states, to win this primary absent a significant paid and volunteer operation- unlikely - but it is possible."

This week's Insiders included 50 Republicans, 42 Democrats, and six independents. They are:

Andrew Weinstein, John Dowless, Kirk Wagar, Erin VanSickle, David Johnson, Roger Stone, Phil Vangekakos, Abel Harding, Tom Lee, Brian Ballard, Christina Johnson, Trey McCarley, Jordan Raynor, Tom Eldon, Bridget Nocco, Jeffrey Garcia, Jackie Lee, Sarah Rumpf, Ana Cruz, Greg Turbeville, Mark Gilbert, Joy-Ann Reid, Darryl Paulson, Husein Cumber, John Morgan, Robert Coker, Andy Ford, Jim Rimes, John Rood, Susannah Randolph, David Rancourt, Christian Ulvert, Mark Ferrulo, Jim Davis, Todd Harris, David Custin, Dan Gelber, Daniel Smith, Jill Chamberlin, Richard Pinsky, Susie Wiles, Kristy Campbell, Greg Truax, Sally Bradshaw, Amber Stoner, Ben Pollara, Jamie Wilson, Nancy McGowan, James Harris, Chris Ingram, Cindy Graves, Cory Tilley, Henry Kelley, Towson Fraser, Alex Sink, Karl Koch, Al Hoffman, Donald Hinkle, Betty Castor, Aubrey Jewett, Dylan Sumner, Ron Greenstein, Steve Schale, Alberto Martinez,  Ron Sachs, Lucy Morgan, William Helmich, Hayden Dempsey, Screven Watson, Scott Arceneaux, Bernie Campbell, Eric Johnson, Gus Corbella, Richard Swann, Cynthia Henderson, Marc Reichelderfer, Kevin Cate, Meredith O'Rourke, Ellen Freidin, Michelle Todd, Dave Aronberg, Colleen Castille, Todd Wilder, Michael Albetta, Derek Newton, Slater Bayliss, Ann Herberger, Justin Day, John Stemberger, Robin Rorapaugh, Peter Schorsch, Frank Tsamoutales, John French, Rich Heffley, Kirk Pepper, Nancy Watkins.

[Last modified: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 12:02am]


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