Perhaps it was Michele Bachmann’s debate coach stepping in to lend a hand, but Mitt Romney’s poll numbers are on the rise again, sending him into the Florida primary with the wind at his back just days after Newt Gingrich stunned him with a double-digit loss in South Carolina.
A national poll this week showed the extent to which Newt’s moment of triumph rocketed him back into relevance nationally, even as his viability in a general election remains low. The NBC/Wall Street Journal survey put the former Speaker ahead of Romney 38-29 percent among Republicans nationwide.
“Gingrich is Goldwater,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “In the general election, Gingrich not only takes down his ship, he takes down the whole flotilla.”
It doesn’t hurt Romney that he’s locked down the support of major local Hispanic leaders — and even those that are staying out of the race, like Tea Party hero Senator Marco Rubio, are defending him on immigration.
Worst for Newt, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who worked closely with him in Congress when they led the Republican takeover of 1994, declared in an open letter released Thursday by the Romney campaign that Gingrich at the top of the ticket would mean a Barry Goldwater-esque disaster for the GOP.
“I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late,” he wrote. “If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway…. In my opinion if we want to avoid an Obama landslide in November, Republicans should nominate Governor Romney as our standard bearer. He has the requisite experience in the public and private sectors. He would be a president we could have confidence in.”
A fresh poll from Quinnipiac — which had Romney ahead by just two points earlier this week — has him pulling away as the primary approaches next week by a familiar spread — 38-29.
“Speaker Newt Gingrich’s momentum from his South Carolina victory appears to havestalled and Gov. Mitt Romney seems to be pulling away in Florida,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Romney also has a better favorability rating from likely primary voters, which supports his lead in the horse race. Of course, with four days before Election Day, there is time for another reversal. Three in 10 voters say they might change their mind.”
Though many debate-watchers doubtless found Romney’s repeatedly invoking “self-deportation” as a solution to the problem of illegal immigration bizarre, freshman Florida Senator Marco Rubio defended him from Newt Gingrich, who called Romney anti-immigrant in a Spanish language TV ad airing in the Sunshine State.
“This kind of language is more than just unfortunate,” Rubio said of the TV spot. “It’s inaccurate, inflammatory, and doesn’t belong in this campaign.”
Rubio, the Republican U.S. Senator for Florida elected as part of the Tea Party wave in 2010, is thought a formidable vice-presidential candidate for any GOP nominee because of the boost he might be provide in helping to garner Latino votes in his home state. His parents are Cuban immigrants who came to the United States in the 1950s.