Live by the sword, die by the sword. Newt surged from the back of the pack after his performance in the early debates. Then came his famous take-down of CNN reporter John King on the eve of the South Carolina primary, to a standing ovation. Republicans recognize that the GOP candidate will be running against the media. Obama will remain above the fray. They want someone who will not only parry the thrusts of the MSM, but thrust back-with eloquence, wit, and indignation-something Milquetoast Mitt didn't seem capable of.
By Tuesday, Jan. 24, Newt had taken a commanding lead over Mitt in Florida polls, 37.7 to 30.3. Then came Newt's interview with the Hispanic station Univision, where he ridiculed the idea of "self-deportation," his ad in Spanish labeling Romney as "anti-immigrant," and Thursday's debate in Jacksonville. Newt dragged out the law-abiding, church-going grandma one time too many. Romney was finally provoked to say something that clearly resonated with Florida Republicans: "You know, our problem is not 11 million grandmothers. Our problem is ... [applause] Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants, would like to have. It's school kids in schools that districts are having a hard time paying for. It's people getting free health care because we are required under the law to provide that health care."
Pollsters seem consistently to underrate the importance of illegal immigration for voters. Some respondents don't want to cite it as a key issue for fear of sounding "anti-immigrant" or "racist." Tom Tancredo, running primarily on that issue, bombed in 2008. But that may have had to do more with Tancredo's lack of gravitas and debating skills. Since the exchange over illegal immigration, Mitt is back up in the most recent Florida poll, 39.2 to 31.
Illegal immigratione may be even more important to a lot of conservative voters the issues Mitt has flipped on, gays, guns, and abortion. If he could bring himself to express some reservations about affirmative action, his lead might double. Again, pollsters don't catch the resentment of non-minority voters at three decades of double standards.
But Mitt still has a chance to blow it. His most recent robocalls in the Tampa Bay area feature Tom Brokaw announcing the ethics verdict against Newt. Brokaw is reverently introduced. Romney's organization, or one of his PACs, seems to have forgotten why he lost in South Carolina on Saturday and why he's now surging in Florida.