Romney boasts sizable lead heading into Florida

Romney has over 10-point lead over rival Gingrich in Sunshine State; Santorum, Paul trail behind.

Gingrich and Romney debate 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gingrich and Romney debate 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The topsy-turvy Republican presidential primary process has once again seen a rapid shift in the race, as most polls now give Mitt Romney a sizable lead going into Tuesday’s Florida primary.
Romney was ahead of Gingrich by 12 points in a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Sunday, and three other polls indicated his lead is between 11 and 15 points.
Gingrich, speaking on Fox News Sunday, acknowledged he had an “uphill” battle facing him, but predicted he would do better than the recent numbers indicated.
“I think it will be much, much closer than these polls. We have a shot at winning,” Gingrich said on Fox. “But frankly it’s uphill against the sheer weight of Romney’s money and the negativity of his campaign.”
Though Gingrich doesn’t have Romney’s funding, his SuperPAC (political action committee) has benefited from two $5 million contributions from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who have long been close to both Gingrich and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The second installment came after Gingrich, former speaker of the US House, delivered a major upset to Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, in South Carolina just over a week ago.
After vanquishing Romney by a spread of 40 to 28 percent in South Carolina, Florida polls originally put Gingrich on top. Winning Florida, the first large, widely diverse state, would be a huge boost for Gingrich, whose campaign had struggled until South Carolina.
A Florida win would not only provide the lion’s share of delegates at this point, but would cement his status as a solid challenger to Romney, who has been the front-runner for most of the race, and help him garner the money and other forms of support needed to challenge the well-funded and well-organized Romney. In that case, the race would probably drag out for at least several more weeks.
Gingrich has taken on a heavy schedule in the state, which has some of the largest Jewish and Latino populations in the nation. His and other candidates’ campaigning so far has often focused on parts of the state where there are lower concentrations of Jews, who tend to vote Democratic.
Gingrich, however, did take a shot at Romney during a campaign appearance Monday on Jewish issues, criticizing the former governor for his having “eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare,” as quoted by Politico.
He was referring to a veto Romney made in 2003 as governor for $600,000 in funding for kosher meals to the elderly in Massachusetts, money that was restored by the state legislature, according to a New York Post report detailing the incident Friday.
Romney’s spokesman defended his opposition, saying the state was in crisis and the kosher funding veto was needed to head off higher reimbursement rates for Medicaid, the New York Post story said.
Romney, whose campaign has been in Florida longer than most others, helped his cause by strong performances in the debates held last week, the same medium that propelled Gingrich in South Carolina.
“I’ve had the fun of two debates where I had to stand up and battle, and battling was fun,” Romney told supporters at a recent campaign stop where he seemed buoyed by the polling tide turning his way.
Should Romney prevail Tuesday, particularly by a large margin, it would revive questions of whether any candidate would be able to seriously challenge him, Gingrich included. Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul are also running, but have trailed significantly in polls in Florida.
Reuters contributed to this report.