The sheer scale of Newt Gingrich’s rise to the top of the Republican presidential pile was underscored on Thursday in a poll in the nation’s three key swing states.
The former House speaker not only holds a commanding lead over nearest rival Mitt Romney, but also is closing in fast on President Barack Obama in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, the survey from Quinnipiac University shows.
The figures make dire reading for Romney, showing that at least four times as many people believe that Gingrich has a better foreign policy than he does and a large percentage view Gingrich as a stronger leader.
The poll results come just as the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign is showing signs that it is ready to go into attack mode against Gingrich in a series of advertisements.
“Gingrich certainly has the momentum on his side and is peaking at the right moment,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Connecticut university’s polling institute.
But he pointed out that Romney still holds a huge financial and organizational advantage “which can be important especially if the primary race turns out to be a long, drawn-out affair.”
He said Romney’s deep pockets are particularly important in Florida. “That’s because of the large number of expensive media markets where television ads cost a pretty penny.”
The poll shows:
- Gingrich has twice the support of Romney among Ohio Republicans, where he leads by 36 percent to 18. Figures in the other two states show slightly smaller leads — 35-22 in Florida and 31-17 in Pennsylvania.
- Among all voters, Gingrich actually beats Obama in the Buckeye State by a single point and is getting close in the other two states.
- Voters in all three states say Obama does not deserve re-election, although Pennsylvania voters give the president significantly better figures than those in Florida or Ohio.
- Among Republicans, Gingrich scores much higher than Romney on foreign policy, knowledge and experience, and strength as a leader, with a smaller lead on financial policy. However, Romney beats him on “moral character.”
“Gingrich is no longer just the flavor of the month,” Brown said. “His boomlet has now stretched from November into December and voting begins in Iowa in less than four weeks.
“Gingrich’s surge in the GOP race is accompanied by a better showing among independent voters in a general election race against President Obama, although he still has a ways to go.
“Romney runs only slightly better against Obama, diluting his claim that he has the best chance to win,” Brown said.
In the three states, Republicans say that Gingrich beats Romney by an average of 39 percentage points on foreign policy; on knowledge and experience by an average 33 points; on being a strong leader by 18 points; and on the economy by 6 points. Romney beats Gingrich on moral character by an average 19 points.
Brown said the White House is now “very concerned” about Ohio “because of the large numbers of whites without college educations — a group among which Obama has been doing poorly.”
The Quinnipiac poll results were released just a day after a nationwide Gallup poll among Republican voters showed Gingrich had a 37-22 percent lead over Romney, having picked up virtually all of Herman Cain’s support after the pizza mogul’s withdrawal from the race.
It also comes just before the next GOP debate, scheduled for Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa. Gingrich, who has enthusiastically backed the Donald Trump-hosted Newsmax ION Television 2012 Presidential Debate scheduled for Dec. 27, also in Des Moines, generally has been perceived as doing better than his main rival in the most recent debates.
But, in a change of tack, Romney shows that he is prepared to go after twice-divorced Gingrich for his private life.
In his most recent ad, Romney uses a clip from the Nov. 9 CNBC debate in which he called himself “a man of steadiness and constancy,” even including his misstatement in which he said, “I’ve been married for the same woman for 25 — excuse me, I’ll get in trouble — for 42 years.”
Romney, a Mormon, then takes a further swing at Gingrich, a former Southern Baptist who converted to Catholicism in 2009, by saying, “I’ve been in the same church my entire life.”
The Romney camp also attacked Gingrich at a press conference Thursday with former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu and ex-Mississippi Sen. Jim Talent leading the assault.
“Gingrich says outrageous things and he has a tendency to say them when they most undermine the conservative agenda,” said Talent.
The pair particularly slammed Gingrich’s criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan last summer, as “right-wing social engineering.”
“It was a clever phrase, that had no other purpose than to make him sound a little smarter than the conservative leadership,” said Sununu who called it “the most self-serving, most anti-conservative thing one could imagine.”
He said Gingrich’s “off-the-cuff thinking” is “not what you want in a commander in chief.”
The Quinnipiac polls were done between Nov. 28 and Dec. 5.
In Florida they had a 2.8 percent margin of error for questions involving all voters and 4.3 percent for those involving only Republicans. In Ohio the margin of error was 2.6 percent for the all-voter questions and 4.4 percent for the Republican ones. In Pennsylvania the margins were 2.6 percent and 4.1 percent.
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