An article in the online website TheHill this morning suggests that Newt Gingrich is narrowing the gap with Mitt Romney in Florida, one day ahead of that state’s crucial primary. It bases that assertion on the two most recent polls that have Romney’s lead over Gingrich down to single digits. The first poll, by InsiderAdvantage, has Romney beating Gingrich by just 4.6%, 35.7-31.1%, with Santorum and Romney back in the pack at about 12%. The second poll, PublicPolicyPolling’s daily tracker, has Romney up 7%, 39-32. That’s not much of a change from the previous PPP tracking poll – but it does show a closer race than the double-digit lead almost every other poll has given Romney in previous days.
Even if Gingrich is enjoying a late surge in Florida, however, it will almost surely be too little, too late, given that about a third of polling respondents say they have already voted, and among those Romney leads by double-digits, at about 45-33%. That means Gingrich is going to have to beat Romney by some 5% or more in votes cast tomorrow just to pull even. At this point, I don’t see that happening.
If the race is tightening, however, it may at least make tomorrow a more eventful day (and even worth live blogging!) But why would Gingrich suddenly reverse a week-long trend in which every poll consistently showed Romney’s lead growing into double digits? Without a sufficient explanation, I tend to think the InsiderAdvantage poll is an outlier. Note that it shows Gingrich beating Romney among Hispanics, 42.4-29%, something I haven’t seen in any other Florida poll this week; they all show Romney winning the Hispanic vote. Moreover, PPP has consistently shown this to be a closer race than have the other surveys, and in this sense their latest poll suggests no real change.
Of course, if Gingrich is closing the gap, he might have to thank everyone’s favorite Mistress of the Moose Sarah Palin. As she did before the South Carolina primary, the former Alaskan Governor has been on the air in the last several days urging voters to prolong the Republican vetting process by voting for Gingrich in Florida. Saturday on Fox’s Jeannine Pirro show Palin told viewers to: “rage against the machine at this point in order to defend our republic and save what is good and secure and prosperous about our nation…We need somebody who is engaged in sudden and relentless reform and is not afraid to shake up the establishment. So, if for no other reason, rage against the machine, vote for Newt, annoy a liberal, vote Newt, keep this vetting process going, keep the debate going.” Although she stopped short of formally endorsing Gingrich’s candidacy (something her husband Todd has already done), it’s clear she is uncomfortable with the pressure the Republican establishment has been exerting to close ranks behind Mitt.
With Herman Cain’s endorsement of Newt yesterday, following Rick Perry’s before the South Carolina primary, it is clear that Newt has positioned himself to become the Tea Party populist anti-establishment candidate. There is more than a little irony in this, given that Gingrich spent the bulk of his political career in Washington, DC, including four years as House Speaker. That’s about as establishment as one can get. And yet it is a reminder that much of the Tea Party remains deeply skeptical of Romney, who they view as closely linked to the economic Wall St. royalists that they associate with the housing market collapse/bank bailout. For his part, Gingrich has been only too happy to adopt the insurgent’s role, no matter how against type he would appear to be. Whether it will be enough to keep his candidacy going remains to be seen. It depends, in part, on whether Santorum will drop out and, if so, does he follow Perry and Cain and endorse Newt? (Although I should note that in Florida, at least, at least half of Santorum’s supporters list Mitt as their second choice!)
What about it Rick? Will you rage against the machine and testify on Newt’s behalf?