COMMENTARY | The countdown to Florida is on. With voters in the Palmetto State set to cast their primary votes on Saturday, Jan. 21, voters in the Sunshine State's Presidential Preference Primary will have their say ten days later on Tuesday, Jan. 31. So which of the GOP candidates stand the best chance of claiming Florida's 50 winner-take-all delegates? If the latest series of polls are any indication of who will win the prize it will be former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney - by 500 Daytona miles.
A poll conducted by Harrisburg, Pa.-based Voter Survey Service for Sunshine State News shows Romney way in the lead with 46 percent. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich stands 26 percentage points behind Romney with 20 percent of the vote. Former Pennsylvania Rep. Rick Santorum takes third with 12 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul struggles in the frontrunner's dust cloud with 9 percent.
Moving on to the Jan. 13-15 poll by American Research Group, Romney again sits well ahead of his GOP contenders with 42 percent of likely Republican primary voter support. Gingrich again placed second with 25 percent, Santorum sits third with 9 percent and Paul remains fourth with 8 percent.
When it comes to candidate support by party preference, ARG still shows Romney way ahead with 42 percent of the support from Republicans and 44 percent from independents. Gingrich pulled 22 percent support from Republicans but tanks among independents with only 2 percent. Santorum and Paul fare better among independents than they do with Republicans with an 8 percent-21 percent and a 6 percent-23 percent ratio respectively. But polling well among independents in this survey is less impressive than it seems. Of the respondents in the ARG survey, 91 percent were Republicans. Only 9 percent were independents.
In the first Sunshine State survey from Public Policy Polling (PPP) for 2012 the line-up looks the same. Romney again places first with 41 percent. Gingrich takes second with 26 percent. Santorum holds third with 11 percent and Paul again trails in fourth with 10 percent.
After placing second with a double-digit deficit behind Romney in the New Hampshire Primary -- following his third-place finish behind Romney and Santorum in the Iowa caucuses -- Paul's campaign chairman Jessie Benton issued a curious statement saying that all of the candidates besides Romney should quit and unite behind Paul's campaign.
According to the results of the survey by PPP, even if most of Romney's opponents were to drop out before Florida's Presidential Preference Primary, the former Massachusetts governor would still take the Sunshine State by storm. In hypothetical head-to-head match-ups Romney leads Gingrich 50-38, Santorum 59-29 and Perry 69-21. Ironically, of all of the GOP frontrunners, Florida voters gave Paul the least likely chance of beating Romney with a margin of 76-17.