Voters in Florida go to the polls Tuesday in a Republican primary election that could have a huge impact on the battle for the party’s presidential nomination. Four contenders remain in the Republican race, but the Florida contest appears to be between two candidates.
Recent polls here show double-digit leads for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney over former congressman Newt Gingrich in what could be a pivotal contest in the race for the Republican nomination.
Gingrich was hoping to build off his strong victory in South Carolina, but Romney has performed well in two Florida debates and continues to pound him with negative ads on television.
Romney is campaigning in Florida with former rival John McCain, the man he lost to four years ago.
This time around Romney is sounding confident about his chances in Tuesday’s primary.
“I believe that as we face these extraordinary challenges that we have that the Constitution and the Declaration [of Independence] remain our blueprint and that Americans should not be fundamentally transformed into something that President Obama wants to see, but instead we should return to the principles of greatness that made us who we are,” said Romney.
Former House speaker Gingrich is continuing a punishing campaign schedule in Florida. Gingrich continues to draw enthusiastic crowds hoping he can mount one more political comeback in a chaotic Republican primary campaign.
“If you will help me in the next two days we will win in Florida, and when we win in Florida we will win the nomination, and when we win the nomination we will beat Barack Obama and we will get America back on the right track!” said Gingrich.
Gingrich got a boost when former rival Herman Cain decided to endorse his bid. Gingrich said he will stay in the Republican race for the long term, no matter what happens Tuesday in Florida.
But political experts here say what is fueling Romney’s surge in the polls is a growing belief among Republicans that he would be the stronger candidate against President Barack Obama in the general election in November.
Peter Brown is with the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and is based in Orlando.
“I think Republican voters in Florida are looking for the same thing they are looking for in other states. They are looking for someone whose views and values they share who they think can beat Barack Obama,” said Brown.
A VOA sampling of early voters in Florida appears to confirm that notion.
Brandon Crossland and his wife Michelle voted early in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park.
“And I have concerns about Newt’s electability," said Brandon Crossland.
“I am hoping that people like us understand electability and that at the end of the day the top priority is to get Obama out of office,” said Michelle Crossland.
The latest Quinnipiac Poll found Romney leading Gingrich, even among conservative supporters of the so called Tea Party movement.
Pollster Brown says that if the polls are right, Romney would get a huge boost with a victory on Tuesday.
“For Romney and Gingrich, Florida is almost the whole ball game. If Romney wins in Florida, it is going to be hard to deny him the Republican nomination.”
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and Texas Congressman Ron Paul also are on the ballot Tuesday, but are well behind in the polls here. Santorum had to break away from the campaign to care for a sick child, and Paul has focused his efforts on other states like Maine that will hold contests in the next few weeks.