Monday, January 28, 2008

Battlefield Florida: McCain Pulls Back Out Front

Florida's Republican primary race is hotter than every, with John McCain and Mitt Romney trading barbs over the weekend, and continuing today.

The McCain campaign is running a new ad hammering Romney on his apparent flip-flopping and dishonesty,
via YouTube:

Meanwhile, McCain holds a lead in new Florida public opinion data heading into tomorrow's election.

A new Quinnipiac University Poll finds John McCain leading Mitt Romney 32 percent to 31 percent, results with the survey's statistical margin of error:
Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are running neck and neck among Florida likely Republican voters, with 32 percent for McCain and 31 percent for Romney, as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani gets 14 percent and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee gets 13 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today....

"Sen. McCain and Gov. Romney are tight as a tick, although McCain's supporters appear slightly more committed. With 24 hours to go, the race is up in the air. Whichever candidate finishes strongest will win Florida and all 57 of its reduced delegate count," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"The major unknown in the final hours before primary day, which could make the critical difference in determining the winner, is how much weight the endorsements by Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez of Sen. McCain carry with Florida Republicans.
Zogby reports that the big weekend endorsements for McCain from top members of Florida's GOP establishment have pushed up the Arizona Senator's numbers in the Sunshine State:

In what’s become a two-man game for the Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain now holds a slim lead over rival Mitt Romney while all others lag well behind in the Florida primary race, the latest Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby telephone tracking poll shows.

Boosted by a strong endorsement from Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, McCain has 33% support, compared to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who wins 30% backing. The two leaders have been locked in a tight contest ahead of Tuesday’s election. This three-day tracking poll, which surveyed 818 likely Republican voters, carries a margin for error of +/- 3.4% and was conducted Jan. 25-27....

Voters who identify themselves as conservative, a group that represents more than half the sample, have also reversed themselves. After giving Romney the edge, McCain now has the support of 34% to Romney’s 33%. In yesterday’s tracking poll, Romney led among those voters with 34% of their support to McCain’s 28%. Moderate voters consistently prefer McCain, giving him 44% of their support in the most recent poll, compared to Romney’s 15%. Among “very conservative” voters, Romney fares far better, winning 48% support to McCain’s 13%.
Also, a new Rasmussen survey shows McCain pulling back up even with Romney, creating a dead heat between the two candidates:

For most of the past week, John McCain was slightly behind Mitt Romney in Florida’s Republican Presidential Primary. Then, on Saturday, the Arizona Senator switched the subject of the campaign to his comfort zone--national security issues. Saturday night, the Arizona Senator got another bit of good news—an endorsement by popular Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

Polling on Sunday showed that McCain picked up four percentage points from the day before. Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani lost two points each and Mike Huckabee also slipped a point. As a result, it’s all tied heading into the final full day of campaigning before Florida’s Republican Presidential Primary.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in Florida shows McCain and Romney tied at 31%, Giuliani is a distant third at 16% and Huckabee is in fourth place at 11%. The number of persuadable voters is also dwindling. Only 2% are undecided and just 6% say there’s a good chance they could change their mind.

Finally, a Suffolk University poll has McCain leading Romney by 3 percentage points:

With the Florida Republican Primary just one day away, John McCain (30 percent) is the slight Florida front-runner. Mitt Romney (27 percent) trails but is within the poll’s statistical margin of error, according to a new survey of likely Republican voters by the Political Research Center at Boston’s Suffolk University.

Rudy Giuliani (13 percent), the front-runner for most of 2007, is now in third place ahead of Mike Huckabee (11 percent). Lagging behind were Ron Paul (4 percent) and Alan Keyes (1 percent), while 16 percent of likely voters were undecided or refused to respond. In addition to the high undecided number, more than a third said they were somewhat likely or very likely to change their mind before voting Tuesday.

The race is very fluid, and John McCain just keeps on going. He is fighting businessman Mitt Romney’s attempt to secure Florida as another electoral acquisition,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “The difference between winning and losing tomorrow may rest with McCain’s recent endorsements from two key statewide Republicans over the weekend: Senator Mel Martinez and Governor Charlie Crist.”

McCain appears to have a higher percentage of committed voters. Seventy-two percent of McCain voters said they were unlikely to change their mind before Tuesday compared with 68 percent for Romney, 66 percent for Huckabee, and 64 percent for Giuliani.
McCain's strength in the surveys - as well as the Senator's focus on national security over the weekend, and the focus on the former Massachusetts' Governor's flip-flopping - has put the Romney camp on the defensive. The Caucus has the details:

John McCain used his first appearance of the day to go after Mitt Romney for alleged “flip-flopping.”

At a shipyard in Jacksonville, Mr. McCain swatted aside Mr. Romney’s
charge that he is a “liberal Democrat” by saying, “He is consistent. He has consistently taken both sides of every major issue. He has consistently

He cited as examples of flip-flopping Mr. Romney’s support, as governor of Massachusetts, for a regional greenhouse gas emissions control program, for a lenient policy toward illegal immigrants and for campaign finance revisions, all positions he has reversed as a presidential candidate.
“People, just look at his record as governor,” Mr. McCain said.”He has been entirely consistent. He has consistently taken two sides of every major issue, sometimes more than two. So congratulations.”

Mr. McCain also went after Mr. Romney for his work as head of Bain Capital, a leveraged-buyout firm. “As head of his ‘investment’ company he presided over the acquisition of companies that laid off thousands of workers.”
Barely pausing to catch his breath, he also answered Mr. Romney’s criticism of his sponsorship of global warming legislation, which Mr. Romney charged would cause steep increases in energy prices and drag down the American economy.
“If he thinks the American economy will suffer by us cleaning up the environment, reducing pollution, and embracing green technology, including nuclear power,” Mr. McCain said, “then we just have a profound difference of opinion.”
I'm giving McCain a slight edge in Florida.

The Arizona Senator's peaking at the right time, and as Rasmussen shows, his poll numbers are moving upward as Romney's are dropping. Not only that, I've seen clips of Romney this afternoon on cable news, and frankly, he looks like he's lost some of his natural confidence. The toll of the campaign?

So, we'll see how things turn out.

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