Florida is likely to be “the big kahuna” of the Republican primary season, with the winner in the Sunshine State probably going on to take the nomination, leading pollster John Zogby tells Newsmax.TV.
“It’s huge,” Zogby said of the first winner-take-all primary to take place in the 2012 primary season. “You could very well have the scenario of different winners in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, none of which, according to the rules, are winner-takes-all.
“Florida is then the big kahuna, it’s a big state, there’s a lot of delegates that will be at stake,” added Zogby, chairman and chief insights officer of IBOPE Zogby.
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Zogby can see the likelihood of three different winners for the first three contests as he feels Rep. Ron Paul could come from behind to snatch Iowa. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are clear favorites in New Hampshire and South Carolina respectively.
So then Florida’s Jan. 31 contest takes on a huge importance. “It could be definitive or at least provide a clarity,” he said during the exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV.
Zogby was talking the day after the seven leading GOP candidates debated in Sioux City, Iowa, for the last time before the Jan. 3 caucuses in the Hawkeye State.
Winning Iowa historically has “been all over the place,” he said.
“What it does is it winnows in and it winnows out, and it also creates a set of expectations on who can meet those and who can’t. This year, Iowa is very important in the winnowing out process and finding the person who is the conservative candidate.
“Someone will emerge as the anti-Republican establishment candidate,” he said.
He pointed out that, with the exception of Jon Huntsman, who has not campaigned heavily in Iowa, none of the candidates is polling really badly in the state. Figures for Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum are all in the high single digits or low double digits, enough for them to make a late surge.
“It’s very fluid out there,” Zogby said. “You are starting to see those numbers being chiseled back downward for Newt Gingrich and there’s still Rick Santorum, there’s still Michele Bachmann.
“What you could see are some of the leading candidates going down a few points, some of those also-rans moving up several points and it’s our job to determine what that all meant on the day after.”
Zogby said he felt Gingrich had a good debate in Sioux City on Thursday night, although he failed to come up with an adequate answer to Bachmann’s charge that he took $1.6 million from the government-backed housing agency Freddie Mac.
“Gingrich was very effective and played good defense. He was really hitting back and getting it from all sides, but on this one issue alone, you are starting to see Gingrich’s numbers going down a little bit in Iowa, going down nationally.
“She effectively took that case to the voters about him and I’m still not sure that he has responded.”
Romney’s quote that President Barack Obama believes the country is in decline — “it is if he’s president, it’s not if I’m president” — was the sort of one-liner the former Massachusetts governor has needed all along. Zogby described the line as “something that’s strong, something that actually is a sound bite that’s about him and not about the other candidates or a response to other candidates.”
“That’s a solid message for the conservative side — the major side — of Republican primary and caucus voters,” Zogby added.
But he painted Rick Perry’s comparison of himself to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow as an outside chance of making a rebound in the polls. “If you’re counting on Hail Marys, to extend the metaphor, that was a Hail Mary.
“There’s no question about the fact that Rick Perry is in trouble, but his one possible ace are Christian conservatives . . . his strength is going to be with Christian conservatives and there is no hotter Christian conservative out there than Tim Tebow.”
He said it was a good thing that the two front-runners, Gingrich and Romney, saved their attacks for Obama, rather than turning on each other.
“Last night was a night for no runs, no hits, no errors, no $10,000 bets or apologizing about multiple affairs.
“It was a reminder that whoever emerges from this process is the nominee, whose number one task is to beat Obama. That’s the question that voters are going to be asking now — who doesn’t simply make the good points, who doesn’t simply appeal to my heart, but who is going to beat Barack Obama?”
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