(Updates with Romney comment starting in second paragraph. For more 2012 campaign news, see ELECT.)
Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney exuded confidence he will win tomorrow’s Republican presidential primary in Florida as rival Newt Gingrich, trailing in public opinion polls, vowed to wage a prolonged fight for the nomination.
“You can sense that it’s coming our way,” Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, told reporters on his campaign plane today. “It’s getting better and better every day.”
Romney, who has battered Gingrich in negative ads and during two debates last week in the state, has a commanding lead, according to a survey released today. The Quinnipiac University poll shows Romney leading Gingrich 43 percent to 29 percent. The Jan. 27-29 telephone poll of 539 likely Republican primary voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
With Romney surging in Florida, Gingrich aides said national surveys show their candidate, a former U.S. House speaker, in the lead.
“Regardless of the message the Romney campaign wants to push and the media wants to deliver, this race is just getting started,” Gingrich’s national political director, Martin Baker, said in a memo to reporters today outlining the candidate’s plans.
Romney and his allies have spent more than $12 million on television ads in Florida, compared with $1.8 million in adverting time bought by Gingrich and his backers through Jan. 29, according to data collected by New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
Earlier today, Romney cited Gingrich’s pledge to conduct a protracted campaign as a sign of the former speaker’s declining fortunes in the race.
“That’s usually an indication that you think you are going to lose when you say you’re going to go on whatever happens,” he said.
More than 623,500 Florida Republicans have already cast ballots through the mail or at early voting sites, more than the total cast in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina and a record for the party’s presidential primary contests in the state, according state party statistics. A turnout of more than 1.5 million is expected by the time polls close tomorrow, state Republican Party spokesman Brian Hughes said.
Still, the nomination won’t be won or lost in Florida alone. The largest state to hold a primary so far, Florida awards 50 convention delegates -- a fraction of the 1,114 needed to secure the nomination.
Gingrich, 68, is pledging to fight all the way to the party’s convention set to be held in Tampa, Florida, during the week of Aug. 27. In his memo, Baker said Gingrich will have an advantage because most of the contests over the next two months will award delegates on a proportional basis.
“The shortage of ‘winner take all’ contests ensures that no single race will either clinch the nomination for a candidate or knock a candidate out of the race,” he wrote.
Gingrich’s campaign identified Arizona on Feb. 28 and Minnesota and Colorado on Feb. 7 as their best chances for victories heading into Super Tuesday, March 6, when 10 states have primary contests.
Republican voters in the two western states have an independent streak that aligns with Gingrich’s anti- establishment message, said R.C. Hammond, a Gingrich spokesman. The campaign will be funded in those states by a base of online donors who give $250 or less, he said.
“We have that pipeline in place,” he said. “It’s all about TV at this point.”
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, after a weekend break from campaigning to care for his sick daughter, also says he’s staying in the race. He scheduled events today in Missouri and Minnesota, which hold nominating contests on Feb. 7.
Texas Representative Ron Paul, who has invested little in Florida, has focused more intensely on gathering delegates from caucus states where it’s cheaper to campaign. He plans to spend tomorrow campaigning in Colorado and Nevada.
After holding a primary night party tomorrow in Tampa, Romney plans to campaign in Minnesota on Feb. 1 before arriving that evening in Nevada, where the campaign is already airing ads before the Feb. 4 caucuses.
Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior Romney adviser, said the campaign considers Paul strong in Nevada, which has an active fiscally conservative Tea Party community, and Santorum with an advantage in Minnesota, where there is a strong community of anti-abortion activists.
“It’s not a two person contest between Mitt and Newt Gingrich,” he said. “We know we have to fight for every vote.”
The split between the two Republican front-runners illustrates the divide within the party between many elected officials who are vocally backing Romney, and the Tea Party and social conservatives who Gingrich is seeking to rally.
“This is a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” said Bill McCollum, a former congressman from Orlando and state attorney general who is chairman of Gingrich’s Florida bid.
In Florida, Romney has showcased his support from some of the biggest names in the Republican Party, highlighting a friendly statement from 1996 presidential nominee Bob Dole and campaigning side-by-side with 2008 nominee John McCain, a senator from Arizona.
Criticizing Wall Street
Gingrich has cast his candidacy in populist terms, painting Romney as the choice of Washington politicians and Wall Street bankers who benefited from government bailouts.
At a campaign stop in Pensacola, Florida, Gingrich said he needed help from his supporters to overcome Romney’s fundraising advantages.
“We can’t beat all the money power of Goldman Sachs, all the Romney people, we can’t beat the Romney money ourselves,” Gingrich said. “We can’t beat the dishonesty of his campaign by ourselves. We need witnesses who are prepared to go out and prepared to stand for conservatism.”
Gingrich, in a Jan. 28 interview with Bloomberg News, said he is down to about $600,000 after winning South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary and is spending money as fast as he can collect it.
Romney accused Gingrich of making excuses for what may be a poor showing in Florida.
At a rally in Dunedin, Florida this afternoon, the former Massachusetts governor portrayed Gingrich as desperately seeking to gain any advantage in the race.
“He’s been flailing around trying to whack me for one thing or another,” he told several hundred voters gathered in the town square. “You just watch it and you shake your head.”
Continuing his effort to tie Gingrich to the housing crisis, Romney attributed the decline in his support to consulting services the former speaker provided to Freddie Mac after leaving office. The government-backed home mortgage company is unpopular in Florida, where 23 percent of all mortgaged homes are delinquent or in foreclosure, the most in the nation, according to Jacksonville, Florida-based Lender Processing Services.
“The idea that someone running for president was getting paid by Freddie Mac at the time that was going on, $1.6 million, that irked people and I think that’s a real reason why Speaker Gingrich has had such a hard time,” he told a crowd gathered in a warehouse this morning.
It’s a message the Romney aides say will also resonate in Nevada, which had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country last year according to Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac Inc.
“It’s hard to justify cashing in at Freddie Mac when people in Florida were losing their homes,” said Fehrnstrom. “That problem exists for him in Nevada as well.”
--With assistance from Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Tampa, Florida and Mark Silva in Washington, D.C. Editors: Robin Meszoly, Justin Blum
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Jacksonville, Florida at email@example.com; Michael C. Bender in Tampa, Florida at firstname.lastname@example.org;
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