ORLANDO, Fla. – As Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich dueled across Florida three days before the state’s pivotal Republican primary, a new Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald poll showed Romney with a commanding double-digit lead.
“A lot of people may not be charged up about Romney, but they’re coming to realize Gingrich is too big a risk to take in the general election,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, which conducted the poll.
Romney leads Gingrich, 42 percent to 31 percent. The survey was taken Tuesday through Thursday and completed before Thursday night’s GOP debate in Jacksonville.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, spent Saturday elaborating on their chief message at that often raucous debate: That the other guy is unfit to be president.
Romney released a scathing new ad reminding voters how the House overwhelmingly reprimanded Gingrich for ethical lapses while he was speaker of the House.
The ad features Tom Brokaw, then the anchorman of “NBC Nightly News,” delivering the news 15 years ago about the extraordinary House rebuke.
NBC’s legal department, though, asked the campaign on Saturday to remove NBC News content from the ad. And Brokaw, in a statement, said he was “extremely uncomfortable with the extended use of my personal image in this political ad. I do not want my role as a journalist compromised for political gain by any campaign.”
The Romney campaign had no comment about the request.
Gingrich’s campaign fought back Saturday, calling the ad “false,” labeling Romney “dishonest,” and vowing to “go all the way to the convention,” regardless of the Florida result.
“I expect to win the nomination,” Gingrich told reporters after a rally in Port St. Lucie. “Why don’t you ask Gov. Romney what he is going to do if he loses, since he is behind in both national polls.”
Gingrich won the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary, and Gallup found he led Romney among Republicans by 6 percentage points in its Jan. 23-27 poll. He was up 9 percentage points in an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll.
Coker found that voters see Gingrich as a liability to other GOP candidates this fall.
“You can feel people are saying ‘We can’t risk it with Newt,’ ” he said.
The poll surveyed 500 likely Republican voters. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Trailing were former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, with 14 percent, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 6 percent.
The poll found that Romney’s attacks on Gingrich’s stint as a consultant for mortgage giant Freddie Mac have had an effect: 52 percent viewed Gingrich’s work for the firm negatively, compared to 28 percent who gave it positive marks.
Romney does well in every part of the state. He has strong majorities in the crucial Hispanic community.
Romney spent his day in Florida’s panhandle, the most conservative area of the state.
At a rally in Panama City on Saturday, Romney spent most of his time rhetorically going after President Barack Obama. But he reserved some of his toughest talk for Gingrich. Romney pointed out that Gingrich likes to mention that he’s an historian, “but that doesn’t give him the right to rewrite history.”
Gingrich was “given the opportunity to lead our party. We elected him … you’re right, he failed,” Romney said.
“We took over the House, that was great news.
“What happened four years later?” Romney added. “Well, he was fined for ethics violations. He ultimately had to resign in disgrace. He can’t rewrite history.”
Gingrich stepped down as speaker in 1998 after Republicans did not fare as well as they had hoped in the elections.