Mitt Romney is resurgent!
(Unless he's not.)
Even if he's not, though, the schedule favors Mitt Romney. After all, he is coming up on a series of contests in places like Arizona and Michigan, where he should have a real advantage.
(Unless he doesn't.)
There are two very contradictory themes developing as we head into the weekend before the Florida primaries. On one hand, it is becoming more and more likely that Newt Gingrich will lose Florida, by what looks like it will be a margin in the high single digits. On the other hand, Gingrich's hand seems to still be strengthening elsewhere, especially in national polling.
The evidence lies, as it often does, in the numbers:
NATIONAL (Gallup Tracking): Gingrich 32, Romney 24, Paul 14, Santorum 13
ARIZONA (American Research Group): Gingrich 32, Romney 32, Paul 12, Santorum 10
FLORIDA (Dixie Strategies/First Coast News): Gingrich 35, Romney 35, Santorum 9, Paul 7
FLORIDA (Quinnipiac): Romney 38, Gingrich 29, Paul 14, Santorum 12
FLORIDA (VSS/Sunshine State News): Romney 42, Gingrich 32, Santorum 12, Paul 9
MICHIGAN (EPIC-MRA): Romney 31, Gingrich 26, Paul 14, Santorum 10
On the general election front, the president still has an edge, and perhaps more importantly, a new poll showed Obama reclaiming the lead from Mitt Romney in a blue-leaning state with special ties to the GOP challenger.
NATIONAL (Rasmussen Tracking): Obama d. Romney (45-42); Obama d. Gingrich (48-41)
MICHIGAN (EPIC-MRA): Obama d. Romney (48-40); Obama d. Gingrich (51-38)
How to explain Romney's Florida renaissance with his softening numbers elsewhere? Actually, I suspect that there is a very simple explanation, which I will explore after the jump.
As I said in the opening, there are two contrasting themes that have been developing in the GOP sweepstakes this week: Mitt Romney's rebound into the lead in the critical Florida primary, coupled with a continued erosion for Mitt Romney everywhere else.
Today's polling is a great set of evidence to support both of these trends. While one pollster (a pollster I have never heard of, as it were) has Florida tied, both Quinnipiac and VSS (connected with GOP pollsters Susquehanna Research) have Romney staked to the same high single-digit lead everyone else has found. Indeed, Quinnipiac exemplifies the trend well, having seen the race as a coin flip when they polled it earlier this week.
Elsewhere, however, Romney continues to swoon. The greatest example of that may well be Michigan. By any objective standard, Mitt Romney ought to have the Wolverine State on lockdown. He grew up there, and his father served as the state's governor. He won the state by 10 points in 2008, notching 39 percent of the vote. Indeed, when EPIC-MRA polled the state last week (a poll that was not released), they had Romney doubling up Newt Gingrich. Today, the margin is down to just five points.
Arizona being tied is also a bit of a shocker, given the state's sizeable LDS population and the fact that Romney has more than held his own in earlier polling in the state.
So, what gives? EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn noted that Gingrich's rise is propelled by the positive free media he got last week from the debates and his South Carolina win. That is what initially launched Gingrich into the lead in Florida, as well.
The problem with free media is that it eventually has to compete with, and can be drowned out by, paid media. And Romney is making it rain in Florida, outspending Gingrich by nearly $10 million. This lopsided ad war, both anecdotally and according to the polling data, have been instrumental in stunting Gingrich's growth in the Sunshine State.
With Romney sitting on vastly more resources than Gingrich, one can expect that trend to continue. And with it, it would seem, Romney has a far clearer path to the nomination than Newt.
It is taking a toll, however. Obama is looking better and better by comparison, at least in recent polling. Whereas Romney actually enjoyed a modest lead over Obama in his quasi home state of Michigan late in 2011, he now trails by eight points. What's more, Romney only performs slightly better than Gingrich in the state (Gingrich trails Obama by 13 percent in the EPIC-MRA poll).
Therefore, even if the lay of the land still favors Romney and his far more considerable resources, Obama can still be the beneficiary of a protracted primary.