It’s Thursday, here’s where sh*t stands – the Florida GOP primary edition

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Mitt Romney’s briefly comfortable lead in Florida appears to have evaporated, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday. The former Massachusetts governor, who led by 12 percentage points in the Quinnipiac poll on Jan. 9, is now in a statistical dead heat with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with 36 percent of likely voters saying they prefer Romney and 34 percent going for Gingrich. Perhaps more significantly, Gingrich leads 40-34 among those voters polled after his win in South Carolina. “Gingrich’s South Carolina victory clearly gives him a boost in Florida,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. But Brown cautioned that former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Romney both saw their momentum slowed after wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively. Overall, pollsters surveyed 601 Republicans likely primary voters Jan. 19-23, giving the poll a margin of error of 4 percentage points. Pollsters spoke to 254 voters before the South Carolina results, for a margin of error of 6.2 percentage points on that portion of the poll, and 347 after, for a margin of error of 5.3 percentage points for that segment.

An interesting polling tidbit…Romney leads Gingrich among Cubans by 32%. Only about 1 in 10 Republican primary voters next Tuesday will be Latino so be careful not to overhype their importance in a non-general-election context, but a separate poll out yesterday conducted by Latino Decisions for Univision and ABC News found Romney leading Gingrich 49 to 23 among Latino Republicans in Florida. This is being driven by the Cubans, who make up the lion’s share of the Latino GOP electorate: Romney gets 49 percent to Gingrich’s 17.

Here’s the red flag: Democratic pollster Margie Omero notes a very weak voter screen that makes this poll quite flawed methodologically.

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, potential 2016 candidate and co-chair of the Hispanic Leadership Network Conference writes an op-ed in today’s Washington Post: 1) Recognize this is not a monochromatic community but, rather, a deeply diverse one. 2) Echo the aspirations of these voters. 3) Press for an overhaul of our education system. 4) Think of immigration reform as an economic issue, not just a border security issue.

More reading along these lines…

Romney has a big lead among Hispanics.  Followed by the WSJ’s take on the Hispanic vote.

I agree with Ben Smith, who points out that Immigration is NOT the most important issue for Hispanics, but it definitely sets a tone. Smith also argues that Romney needs to pivot on immigration without it looking like a flip-flop:

“Though he did his best in South Florida to project a soft line on illegal immigrants and a hard line on Fidel Castro – who he suggested would go to hell – he has dug himself a deep hole,” Ben Smith writes in a column. “Hispanic activists in both parties told POLITICO they are stunned by how far right Romney has moved in the past two months, and think he will have a hard time coming back… ‘Romney has done himself some real damage,’ said Ana Navarro, a Florida Republican who has advised John McCain and Jeb Bush. ‘Romney has now thrown Obama a lifesaver on the issue. It’s been stupid and unnecessary. He could have been more nuanced and left himself room to maneuver.”

Now, for the obligatory Ron Paul mention, check out this story:

If Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul ever needs a change of scenery, he might consider running for office in the greater Tampa area.

The Texas congressman has drawn the largest chunk of his support in Florida from individual donors in Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

And the obligatory Rick Santorum mention…wait, is Rick Santorum even in Florida wonders Marc Caputo?

Where’s Rick?

The question isn’t just for the news media. It’s being echoed by Rick Santorum grassroots supporters in Florida who feel the national campaign has let them down. As a result, it has fueled rumors for days that Santorum isn’t going to stay in Florida through the Jan. 31 primary.

Is he or isn’t he? Where will he be?

“I’m not sure annyong but the senator knows that,” said one supporter. “The national campaign has really been incompetent. They don’t reach out to people who know Florida, they schedule things and then cancel them.”

Looking for a 30,000 foot view of the race? Check out Ron Brownstein’s observations on the race in the National Journal.

Or…

Larry Sabato and his analysts at the University of Virginia reviewed the electoral map with an eye for states Gingrich probably would struggle to win in a general election. Their standard electoral map, including leaners, shows 247 electoral votes for Obama, 206 for the Republicans and 85 toss-ups. Their Newt map gives 303 electoral votes to Obama, 181 for Gingrich and 54 toss-ups. Here’s the explanation: “Let’s be honest here: Romney’s the closest thing out there to a generic Republican available. He is not going to steal the presidency away from the incumbent if Obama’s having a good year and the economy is solid. Rather, if the country is ready to make a change, then Romney would be a credible alternative. The national polling numbers bear that out; they also show that Gingrich, at least right now, is not seen as a similarly acceptable alternative.

Where are the candidates today?

Newt Gingrich will be in Mount Dora on Thursday at a Lake County Republican Party and the North Lake Tea Party. (Thursday, 9 a.m., Lakeside Inn, 100 Alexander St., Mount Dora.)

Rick Santorum will be in Pensacola on Thursday at an event sponsored by the Escambia County Republican Party. (Thursday, 11:30 a.m., New World Landing, 600 S. Palafox St., Pensacola.)

Mitt Romney speaks at Paramount Printing in Jacksonville at 10:15 a.m.

Information in this post includes material from the News Service of Florida and Politico.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.