The four remaining Republicans presidential candidates gathered once again on Thursday night. This time in Jacksonville, Florida at the campus of North Florida as a prelude to Tuesday’s primary in the state. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich continued what has become a war of words between the leading GOP candidates for the party’s nomination. Former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum at times came after the two for their petty arguments and at other times attacked those who continue to create a wedge between the two as if it is was for ratings or press. The fourth wheel and only candidate yet to win a primary or caucus, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX14), was quick with his quips and honest as always. Naturally, with the debate and focus being on Florida; immigration was a hot button topic and issue and one could see the small differences the four candidates have regarding one of the nation’s major issues after the economy and jobs.
The stakes continue to rise for the remaining candidates. Paul is unlikely to compete heavily and place in the top three thus one nominee will claim a second victory. Romney and Gingrich are both confident and a win will go a long way for the winner as the contest enters a long month ahead before Super Tuesday in early March. The better Santorum compared to Romney and Gingrich will largely aide his candidacy during the stretch between now and Super Tuesday. Santorum won Iowa using minimum funds and a local appeal by visiting nearly every part of the state. Caucus states like Nevada or Maine can allow him that same appeal.
This week’s debates allowed Romney a stage to recompose himself and present himself in a light that will appeal to voters in Florida. He was more poised and more aggressive during the Florida debates as compared to the South Carolina debates, where Gingrich hardly minced words and targeted the emotions of those in attendance and several voters in that state’s primary on the January 21st.
In anticipation for Florida, Governor Chris Christie has had some choice words for Gingrich. Christie is a chief surrogate for Romney and especially after South Carolina; he has been adamant about his candidate and has targeted his top GOP rival. Similarly to the lead upr to South Caolina, Monmouth University has released a poll giving voters some insight to where the primary race is leaning. Their poll days before South Carolina did not exactly equate the sudden of Gingrich in the Palmetto State, but based on what is unfolding this week; their numbers could be more accurate. They are numbers that show Romney garnering 39% of the support to Gingrich’s 32%.
When it comes to generic Tea Party support, the two are tied while Gingrich has a 2 to 1 advantage amongst those who strongly support the Tea Party. While Romney enjoys a 2 to 1 edge over Gingrich amongst those who somewhat to sort of support the Tea Party. Santorum with 11% and Paul with 8% trail far behind and likely provide a glimpse into next Tuesday. The gender and age gaps might be the difference ultimately. Romney trails Gingrich by a small amount amongst men, but Romney holds a strong and big lead over Gingrich amongst women. That might be a sign that despite Gingrich brass and arrogant answers in South Carolina might not be a strong enough armor against several female GOP voters who see a man that does not have the best history with women. Romney also has a considerable lead amongst one of the biggest voting blocs in the Sunshine State: the 65 and over crowd. He out polls Gingrich, his closest rival, by a 48 to 33 edge. Ideologies outside of those who are arch conservative favor Romney especially the middle of the road voters or the Reagan Democrats and moderate Republicans.
The poll also revealed a strong favorability for Senator Marco Rubio to pursue the vice presidential nomination if selected. Nearly 2 out of every 3 voters is on board with such an idea. Voters are torn, though, regarding how they are choosing their nominee. 50% are largely basing their vote on the chance their candidate can defeat President Barack Obama this November while 48% are basing their vote mostly on whom matches their values and stances. Romney leads both groups and actually has a larger lead amongst the values voters mostly due to the fact that Santorum and Paul taper off decent percentages of the voters’ opinions.
As Patrick Murray, the pollster for Monmouth University, explains;
“Governor Romney appears to be ahead for the moment, but we have seen voter preferences turn on a dime in this contest. Debate performances and ad buys in Florida will determine whether he can solidify his lead or whether Speaker Gingrich can pull out another stunner.”
This poll will go along with the debates as another layer into what is quickly developing into a fierce debate for the party’s nomination and soul. 2011 was mostly about going after President Obama and now with each contest the venom starts to be directed more at each other. Florida will be that much more important and contested than the previous three as this race will truly give someone a small edge that could lead to a major night in early March.