Reporting Tim Kephart
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Mitt Romney may not need to capture South Carolina to win the GOP nomination thanks to a large lead in Florida.
According to a new Public Policy Polling poll, amongst GOP voters, Romney now leads his closest competitor, Newt Gingrich, in Florida by 15 points (41 percent to 26 percent).
Rick Santorum checked in at 11 percent, with Ron Paul at 10 percent, and Texas Governor Rick Perry receiving support from just 4 percent.
It’s been a rapid rise for Romney and a precipitous fall for Gingrich. Since PPP conducted a Florida poll just after Thanksgiving, Romney has gained 24 points while Gingrich has dropped 21 points.
“Our current polling suggests Mitt Romney is the man to beat in both South Carolina and Florida,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “The top concern of voters this year is the economy and Romney is the candidate they trust most on that issue. He’s also managed to neutralize social conservatives. The GOP nomination contest may be functionally over by the end of the month.”
Romney dominated the field when in Florida when it came to dealing with the economy, but he trailed Gingrich by 14 points when it came to managing America’s foreign policy.
But, Romney’s support is not completely set in stone.
According to the PPP poll, 49 percent of Republicans would prefer someone else to be the Republican nominee.
That could be problematic as the general election begins if there’s an enthusiasm drop-off for Romney’s nomination.
PPP asked voters about whether endorsements could sway their votes. Senator Marco Rubio’s endorsement would make 40 percent more likely to vote for a candidate.
On the other hand, 41 percent said if Rick Scott endorsed a candidate it would make them less likely to vote for that candidate.
Florida GOP voters were most concerned with government spending and reducing the debt, with jobs coming in second.
Republicans were also more concerned about beating Barack Obama than whether a candidate was aligned with them on the issues they thought were the most important.