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Polls Show Romney Leading Gingrich in Crucial Florida Primary Showdown

Republican presidential candidates, from left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, look toward moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN as they participate in t

Voters in the southeastern U.S. state of Florida go to the polls Tuesday in a primary election that could prove pivotal in the battle for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich are the top two candidates left in the Republican race, with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and Texas Congressman Ron Paul also on the ballot.

The latest polls show Mitt Romney with a big lead in Florida, and the former Massachusetts governor is focusing his attacks on President Barack Obama. “People are hurting out there and you know what? This president needs to connect with the American people and understand just how tough things are. And I will tell the American people the truth and the fact that he has not made things better, he has made them worse," he said.

Romney is even getting help from the man who beat him four years ago, Arizona Senator John McCain. “He believes that businesses create jobs, not like Obama who believes that government creates jobs," he said.

Romney supporters, like Aleshia George, are ready to deliver their votes in Florida in Tuesday’s primary. “I think he has got the intelligence, the economy background, the business background and just common sense approach that we are missing in Washington.”

Romney’s main competitor remains Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich is carrying on despite bad poll numbers and small crowds like this one at a church in a Hispanic suburb of Orlando. “I have a very simple case. We nominated a moderate in 1996 and we lost. We nominated a moderate in 2008 and we lost. I believe only a solid conservative can debate Barack Obama and win," he said.

Gingrich retains loyal conservative supporters like Nancy Acevedo. “He is a very strong character. He has his own way of doing things. But what you see is what you get," she said.

Gingrich got a boost with the endorsement of former rival Herman Cain.

But in Orlando, Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown says the Florida race favors Romney. “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," he said.

That issue of electability was crucial for two Republicans who took advantage of Florida’s early voting law, Brandon and Michelle 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.

Pollster Peter Brown says Florida is shaping up as the key test so far in the Republican race. “For Romney and Gingrich, Florida is almost the whole ballgame. If Romney wins in Florida, it is going to be hard to deny him the Republican nomination," he said.

And so for now, on the eve of the Florida primary, the polls and momentum appear to favor Mitt Romney in what has been at times a chaotic and unpredictable battle for the Republican nomination.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.