As polls showed a late surge by GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich just days before the South Carolina primary, noted pollster and author Scott Rasmussen tells Newsmax.TV that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s appeal as the “inevitable nominee” appears to be starting to wane.
Former House Speaker Gingrich surged ahead of Romney in four separate polls based largely on his performance in Monday’s debate, positioning him to not only do well in South Carolina but also in the upcoming Florida primary.
“If he wins in South Carolina, the numbers will change in Florida in and of themselves, because part of Gov. Romney’s appeal has been this sense that he is the inevitable nominee and he is the most electable candidate,” said Rasmussen, author of the new book, “The People’s Money: How Voters Will Balance the Budget and Eliminate the Federal Debt."
“We’re already starting to see some erosion in the belief that Gov. Romney is the most electable candidate.”
Rasmussen, founder and president of Rasmussen Reports, showed Gingrich leading 33 percent to Romney’s 31 percent as of Wednesday night.
“The number is very volatile as we head into the final days, but yes, it is possible for Newt Gingrich to do well in South Carolina and we know that four years ago in this primary, John McCain and Mike Huckabee were duking it out for the victory and supporters of the other candidates began to drift away in the final days to pick between two front-runners.
“I expect that to happen some this time around although Ron Paul supporters are likely to stay with their candidate,” Rasmussen said in an exclusive interview Thursday.
Even so, Romney’s campaign is well organized and appears to be encouraging supporters to take advantage of the early voting in Florida that has already begun, giving him an advantage there.
“What a Gingrich campaign can hope to do is not necessarily win in Florida, but be much more competitive than the most recent polls from Florida have shown and then go into the quiet phase of February, beginning to build a campaign organization,” according to Rasmussen.
The pollster said he does not expect Gingrich to get much of a bump from Texas. Gov. Rick Perry’s announcement today that he is pulling out of the race and throwing his support behind fellow conservative Gingrich.
“I don’t think it’s going to have much of an impact, bluntly, because voters abandoned Rick Perry before he abandoned the race,” observed Rasmussen. “In our latest South Carolina polling, he’s only getting 2 percent of the vote. Perhaps it clears the field a little bit more.”
Rasmussen suggested that Perry’s decision to pull out of the race could change the dynamics of the final South Carolina debate, scheduled for Thursday night.
“It wasn’t too long ago we were seeing debates with eight or nine people on stage, all of them having very limited time,” he explained. “Now you’re going to be down to a debate with just Gov. Romney, Speaker Gingrich, Congressman Paul, and Former Sen. Rick Santorum, and all four of them will have plenty of time to talk, which may or may not be beneficial, but they’ll all have more time and more air time for people to judge their candidacy.”
In some respects, Rasmussen sees comparisons between the current GOP race and the last Democratic presidential primary race.
“We’ve had different front-runners all the time; we’ve had different candidates surging at the end. But, in another way, this race has been remarkably consistent,” he said. “Mitt Romney has been the focal point, the defining edge, and it’s just a question of finding the vehicle for people who want to challenge him and, to some degree, that’s like Hillary Clinton’s run four years ago in the Democratic Party’s side.”
Rasmussen said that people were still debating whether John Edwards or Barack Obama would be the challenger to Clinton up until the final days in Iowa.
“She was presumed to be the front-runner, the nominee, the heir apparent, and, yet, when she began to run into trouble, Barack Obama was able to capitalize on that. But for the early parts of the campaign, Hillary Clinton was the defining factor in 2008 just like Mitt Romney is this time around,” Rasmussen said.
He acknowledges that the Gingrich campaign would likely derive some benefit if Santorum were to also pull out of the race.
“It is quite possible, as I look at the race, that much of his support could go to Gov. Romney or to Speaker Gingrich, which is not an automatic benefit to the speaker,” Rasmussen said. “It would depend, somewhat, on what Sen. Santorum did: Would he endorse Gov. Romney if he left the race? There’s way too many imponderables. What we do know from earlier polling is whenever we polled Gov. Romney vs. any of the other front-runners, it was always a toss-up. It wasn’t the case that if you got rid of all the conservatives splitting up the vote, they swamped Gov. Romney’s total. It always ended up very close, and I suspect that’s where we’d be today.”
The absence of a dominant front-runner who captures the passion of Republican voters has made for a very fluid election cycle. “There was nobody that people were saying, ‘Oh yeah. This is the person,’ ” Rasmussen told Newsmax.TV.
“Some people were thinking Sarah Palin’s going to jump in or Chris Christie’s going to jump in or Mitch Daniels is going to jump in. There were all these fantasy candidates floating around — fantasies for different, individual groups of voters but nobody jumped in who really captured the passion of the party.”
He added that Republican voters appear to be looking for two things: “One, they’re looking for someone who can beat Barack Obama; Two, they’re looking for someone who, if they move into the White House, can really bring about change, and they haven’t found a candidate that they’re comfortable with that can accomplish both those goals.”
To buy Scott Rasmussen's new book, “The People’s Money: How Voters Will Balance the Budget and Eliminate the Federal Debt,"click here.
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