Can Gingrich Beat Obama, and Has Santorum Lost His Head? Previewing Tonight’s Debate

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The events keep coming.  Tonight is the first of two scheduled debates prior to  the Jan. 31 crucial (how often have I used that term before?) primary in Florida, and the first since Gingrich’s “surprise” (not to you!) victory in South Carolina.    Already the first post –South Carolina polls in Florida are showing a Gingrich surge.   A Rasmussen Poll has Gingrich up over Romney, 41%-32%,  while an InsiderAdvantage Poll has Gingrich up 34%-26%.  Paul and Santorum trail far behind in both polls.  Meanwhile, PublicPolicyPolling is tweeting that their Florida poll, to be released any minute now, has Gingrich leading as well, albeit by a smaller number than in these two other polls.

Keep in mind, however, that this early in the process in Florida, these polls are likely reflecting respondents’ view of who is winning the “media narrative” more than any fixed intent regarding for whom they will vote.  As we saw in South Carolina, the polling numbers can change appreciably in a short period.

I will spend plenty of time in the coming days analyzing the Florida polls.  Of equal interest, however, is that Gingrich has now pulled almost even with Romney in Gallup’s national tracking poll, at 29%-28% among Republican and Republican-leaning independents.

Even more interesting, perhaps, is that in Gallup’s trial heat polls, Gingrich does as well as Romney in a head-to-head matchup with Barack Obama; both trail the President by 2%, 50-48%.  Remember, Romney has consistently polled the best among Republican candidates against Obama, but these latest polls, following on the heels of the South Carolina exit polls that show most voters think Gingrich is more electable, are beginning to erode Romney’s lead on that score.   Note that Gingrich has been arguing that he, in fact, will do better against Obama than would a “Massachusetts Moderate” like Romney.

Again, these national polls are much better indicators of the prevailing media narrative than they are an actual guide to what will happen months from now.  But they are not insignificant predictors, even at this early stage. I will talk more about their predictive power in a separate post.

Gingrich’s polling surge has led Romney to take the “mittens” off.  Today he ran his first negative ad of this campaign, targeting Gingrich’s ethics violation and ties to Freddie Mac.

Gingrich, however, anticipating the Freddie Mac attack, and mindful of Romney’s failure to release his taxes  debacle, has tried to defuse the situation by agreeing to release his Freddie Mac contract.  It apparently has just come out, although I’ve yet to read the details.

All this sets the stage for tonight’s debate on NBC at 9 p.m.  Although I suspect it can’t match the drama of yesterday’s Patriot’s victory, it should still hold some entertainment value.   I expect Romney to come out swinging.  But we shouldn’t forget that Rick Santorum is on the stage as well, and his campaign is in full “headless chicken mode”.   And if you know anything about headless chickens, you know Santorum – even though his candidacy is dead – may keep running for months (warning: no actual chicken was harmed in the making of this video – but it might put you off your feed for a day):

I’ll be on at 8:50 or so for some live blogging.  As always, I invite you to pour  a scotch, load up the keyboard, order those chicken mcnuggets, and chime in with your comments.

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