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Tampa Bay Times/Herald poll: Romney leads Fla by 11, crushing Gingrich among Hispanics and beating Obama

Mitt Romney needed Florida to resuscitate his campaign after a South
Carolina routing, and on Tuesday, Florida is poised to deliver big.
A new Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll found Romney easily
beating Newt Gingrich among likely Republican primary voters, with 42
percent support to Gingrich's 31 percent. Santorum trailed with 14 percent,
followed by Ron Paul at 6 percent.
What looked like a neck-and-neck race at the start of last week quickly
shifted in Romney's favor as he and his allies drowned Gingrich on Florida
TV and the former House speaker turned in two listless debate performances.
Romney leads in every region of the state — and by 16 percentage points in
Tampa Bay. The two Republican front-runners are closest in conservative
North Florida, where Romney had 36 percent support and Gingrich 31 percent.
"Romney's margin is largely driven by Republican women, and he also has a
very strong base of support among the Hispanic community,'' said Brad
Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted
the poll.
Gingrich and Romney are essentially tied among men, but Romney has a
19-point lead over Gingrich among women. Gingrich's cocky persona, combined
with his three marriages and record of infidelity, help account for that
gender gap, Coker said.
The survey also underscores President Barack Obama's challenge over the
next nine months in winning Florida a second time. Only 43 percent of all
Florida voters have a favorable impression of Obama, and 41 percent have an
unfavorable opinion. Forty-nine percent disapprove of the president's job
performance and 46 percent approve.
Romney today is beating the president in Florida, 48 percent to 44 percent,
the only Republican to do so. Gingrich trails Obama by 9 percentage points,
50 percent to 41, and Santorum trails 50 percent to 39.
The telephone survey of 800 registered Florida voters — all likely to vote
in the general election — was conducted Jan. 24-26 for the Tampa Bay Times,
Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13. The
poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon, a nonpartisan, Jacksonville-based
company. The survey also included an over-sampling of 500 likely Republican
primary voters for the GOP primary questions. The margin of error overall
is 3.5 percentage points. For GOP primary questions, the margin of error is
4.5 percentage points.
• • •
The poll offers little good news for Gingrich in Florida. Barring a
last-minute surprise, Romney is heading toward a comfortable Florida win
that will re-establish him as the heavy favorite to win the nomination.
Gingrich's insurgent candidacy has drawn big, energetic crowds across the
state, but he lacks the money and campaign muscle of Romney. Multiple
Romney mailers went to Republicans starting in early January as they
started receiving absentee ballots, while Gingrich mailers hit as late as
Saturday even to Republicans who voted weeks ago.
In a state with 10 media markets, TV ads are critical, and Romney and his
allies have buried Gingrich with spots attacking the former speaker's
ethics controversies in Congress, his consulting work for home loan backer
Freddie Mac, and casting him as erratic.
An independently run pro-Romney super PAC has spent at least $10.7 million
in Florida — overwhelmingly on ads lacerating Gingrich — while a
pro-Gingrich committee has spent about $3.9 million. On top of that, the
Romney campaign has spent nearly $6 million in Florida compared to about $1
million by Gingrich's.
Standout performances at the widely watched debates would have helped
Gingrich compensate for Romney's overwhelming campaign ad advantage, but
Gingrich failed to deliver. Instead, he found himself on the defensive
against a newly aggressive Romney determined to halt Gingrich's South
Carolina-driven momentum. The former speaker complained about the quiet
audience at Monday's Tampa Bay Times/NBC News debate, and the Romney
campaign made sure the rowdier audience Thursday in Jacksonville was
dominated by Romney supporters.
The Times/Herald/Bay News 9 poll was completed just as the Jacksonville
debate started. Many observers said Santorum had the most impressive
"If you see those (Santorum) numbers pop up closer to 20, that is going to
be strictly from the debate," Coker said, noting that Santorum has not been
running TV ads in the state and has little campaign organization.
• • •
Four years ago, John McCain beat Romney in Florida by 5 percentage points,
largely thanks to Romney's anemic showing in South Florida and among
Hispanic Republicans. This year Romney has a 26-point lead in South Florida
and 24-point lead among Hispanic voters, the poll shows.
"He's completely flipped the table in southeast Florida and with Hispanic
voters this time around,'' said Coker.
Juan Perez, 69, a retired Cuban-American Republican in Miami, said he
admires Romney's business background.
"He's a dedicated businessman," said Perez. "At least he has made his own
money and is a capable businessman. He is also an ethical and moral man."
More bad news for Gingrich: His attacks on Romney's venture capital career
leading Bain Capital — and in some cases profiting on companies that went
under or laid off workers — has done little to sway Florida Republicans. At
the same time, Romney's attacks on Gingrich's consulting work for Freddie
Mac do resonate among Florida Republicans.
Asked if they generally had a positive or negative view of Romney's career
at Bain Capital, three-quarters of Republicans had a positive view and only
13 percent said negative. Asked if they generally had a positive or
negative view of Gingrich's Freddie Mac consulting, 28 percent said
positive and 52 percent negative.
"I don't like the way he acts, and I don't like the Fannie thing," Virginia
Driggers, a retired convenience store manager in rural Dixie County, said
of Gingrich. "And there are quite a few other things I don't like either."
Among Republicans, 55 percent had a favorable impression of Romney, and 14
percent unfavorable. Forty-one percent had a favorable impression of
Gingrich and 32 percent unfavorable.
Questions about Romney's record at Bain are sure to continue in the general
election if he wins the nomination, and the poll indicates it will have
more resonance with the broader electorate. While 74 percent of likely
Republican voters said they had a positive view about his business
background, among all voters only 46 percent had a positive view and 30
percent had a negative view.
"I just don't see how that can be a good thing,'' said Carla Rhea, a
Tallahassee nurse and registered independent. "I kind of feel like
everybody needs a job, but you can pick and choose the jobs you do and when
you're hurting other people, it's just not where you should be. And that
apparently, there's no line for him there."
• • •
Still another advantage for Romney is the early vote. Among those surveyed
who had early voted, nearly half had cast their ballots for Romney.
"That's going to make it that much tougher for anybody to close the gap
simply because he has so many in the bank," Coker said.
Magda Dube, 48 of Miami Lakes, voted Thursday before the debate.
"I voted for Romney. Because Gingrich, I don't like the fact that he got
money from Freddie Mac. Seems a little hypocritical," said Dube, who owns a
blind-manufacturing business. "Romney managed to be successful and create a
$250 million company.
"He's proven and his father has a political background."
Times/Herald staff writers Brittany Alana Davis, Alexandra Leon and Adam
Beasley contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at