Rasmussen tracking poll of Florida: Mitt Romney 44%, Newt Gingrich 28%

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Mitt Romney has opened a double-digit lead in Florida as the perception grows among Republican primary voters that he is the strongest general election candidate against President Obama. The state’s GOP Primary is on Tuesday.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Florida Republican Primary Voters, conducted Saturday, shows Romney up by 16 points with 44% support. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a distant second at 28%.

These figures reflect a significant turnaround over the past week. Last Sunday, just after his big win in the South Carolina Primary, Gingrich led Romney by nine.  By the middle of this past week,  Romney was back in control with an eight-point advantage. Despite all the ups and downs, the results today are very similar to polling results found in Florida three weeks ago, coming off Romney’s decisive victory in the New Hampshire Primary.

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum earns 12% support, while Texas Congressman Ron Paul picks up 10%. One percent (1%) prefer some other candidate, and five percent (5%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here).

Republican voters are looking first and foremost for a candidate who can beat Obama. Earlier in the week, when Gingrich was leading in Florida, the Sunshine State’s primary voters were evenly divided as to whether Romney or Gingrich would be the stronger general election candidate. By mid-week, as Romney regained the lead, he had a 15-point advantage over Gingrich on this question. Today, 53% believe that Romney is the strongest candidate against the president, and only 29% think Gingrich fits that role.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) in Florida now expect Romney to eventually win the GOP presidential nomination, up from 55% on Wednesday. Just  21% think Gingrich will be the nominee, down from 31% earlier in the week.

Seventy percent (70%) of Likely Florida Primary Voters have a favorable opinion of Romney. Gingrich is viewed favorably by 58%, Santorum by 64% and Paul by 37%.

Just 24% say the debates are a Very Important factor in their voting decision. Another 57% say they are Somewhat Important.

Twenty-four percent (24%) of Florida primary voters believe it would be good for another candidate to get in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Nationally, that figure is 33%.

Three percent (3%) rate the economy as good or excellent, while 67% say it’s in poor shape. Fourteen percent (14%) say the economy is getting better, but 59% believe it is getting worse. These numbers are a bit more pessimistic than the national average.  

Among Very Conservative voters, Gingrich leads by six. However, among those who are Somewhat Conservative, it’s Romney by a 52% to 24% margin. The former governor also leads by 20 among those who are not conservative.

Only 21% of Florida voters now say it’s possible they could change their mind before voting.

Nationally, Gingrich leads the presidential pack among likely GOP primary voters with 35%.  After that, it’s Romney 28%, Santorum 16% and Paul 10%. The charges have been flying fast and furious about Gingrich’s marital and professional behavior and Romney’s business practices and taxes, but 68% of Likely Republican Primary Voters nationwide believe Gingrich is at least as ethical as most politicians.  Eighty-two percent (82%) regard Romney to be at least as ethical as most of his peers.

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.