A win of the Republican Party's next primary, to be held on Tuesday in the sunshine state of Florida, by leading contender and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney could help him secure the nomination to become the GOP (Grand Old Party) presidential candidate, some U.S. political analysts have said.
Romney is poised to secure such a win according to a latest poll released on Friday by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which showed Romney in a nine-point lead over another top contender Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Romney was said to have 38 percent support from likely GOP voters, compared with 29 percent for Gingrich, who just won the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary.
The two remaining GOP contenders, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former U.S. senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, were well behind in polling of Republicans in Florida, and neither of them is expected to win the Jan. 31 Florida primary.
Florida has 4.1 million registered Republicans and the contenders are fighting to win the state's 50 Republican delegates.
"The Florida primary is hugely important. It has the largest Republican electorate of the early contests. It will likely have more votes than Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina combined," said Andrew Rugg of the political think tank American Enterprise Institute, in an interview with Xinhua.
Because Santorum won the state of Iowa and Romney won the state of New Hampshire, "Florida will either re-establish Romney as the front-runner, or make it clear that he is perceived to be too moderate for the GOP electorate, and make Gingrich the new favorite" to become the GOP presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention scheduled for August in Tampa, said Aubrew Jewett, political science professor at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
For any of the GOP contenders to become the party's presidential candidate, he must win the votes of 1,144 delegates from across the country.
"If you look back to every presidential election year since 1980, the GOP candidate that has won the South Carolina primary has gone on to become the Republicans presidential candidate," said Republican Party political strategist Chris Ingram, who runs the political consulting company 411 Communications. "So, the Florida primary is very important. I really believe that if Romney loses here, then his presidential campaign is in real trouble."
"If Gingrich goes on to win the Florida primary, he will have the momentum as we eventually go into March, as that is when the next heavy round of GOP state primaries will occur," Ingram told Xinhua.
Romney is trying, with noticeable effort, to make sure that he defeats Gingrich in the Florida primary. Romney has had U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 GOP presidential candidate and a national politician who is very popular with Florida's large percentage of older people, make campaign "stump speeches" for him.
"A Romney victory in Florida would probably end Gingrich's momentum and allow Romney's superior organization and financing to win the nomination in the February primaries. A Gingrich win would open the race wide open by legitimizing Gingrich as the anti- Romney candidate, and elevating his profile among Republican voters as they go to the polls in February," Gregory Koger, associate political science professor at the University of Miami, told Xinhua.
When Democratic and Republican presidential candidates campaign in the 50 U.S. states, they have to be careful not to do or say anything that, after they secure their respective political parties' presidential candidacy, could hurt their chances at winning states in the November presidential election.
Rugg of the American Enterprise Institute believed that both Gingrich and Romney have already done so in Florida. In the Thursday evening debate in Jacksonville, Romney was much more aggressive in verbal confrontations with Gingrich as compared to the Monday evening debate in Tampa, often interrupting Gingrich when the former House speaker tried to belittle him.
Despite the promises by both Romney and Gingrich at the beginning of their respective campaigns that they would not run negative advertisements against their opponents, the number of negative print, radio, and television advertisements that both campaigns have produced and shown to Floridians is the greatest since the 2010 Florida gubernatorial Republican campaign between then Attorney General Bill McCollum and Rick Scott. The latter went on to win the 2010 state gubernatorial election.
"The negative primary campaign currently being waged in Florida has begun to turn independent voters off of both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney," Rugg said. "Romney has seen his unfavorable ratings rise among independents not only nationally, but in Florida. If independents sour towards Romney, it could cost him the state in the general election. The same is true for Newt Gingrich."
There is more bad news for the Republicans: the latest Quinnipiac University poll showed that President Barack Obama's popularity among the Florida electorate has bounced upward compared to four months ago. Obama won the state in the 2008 election.
A random telephone poll of over 1,500 members of the Florida electorate had Obama and Romney in a dead-heat tie, each garnering 45 percent of the votes. Four months ago, Romney held a seven- point lead in the same type of Quinnipiac University telephone poll.