Gingrich Surges in Florida, Montana

Is this Newt Gingrich's soufflé moment - rising high quickly, and then falling almost as fast, just like other A.B.M. (Anybody But Mitt) candidates have done?  Or do new poll numbers out of Florida and Montana indicate a deeper move by GOP voters toward the former U.S. House Speaker?

Public Policy Polling reports that Gingrich has opened up a stunning 30-point lead over nearest rival Mitt Romney (47%-17%) in the Sunshine State.  Gingrich also has a bigger advantage over Ron Paul and Romney in Montana (37% to Paul's 12% and Romney's 11%).

According to the numbers, Gingrich now leads his rivals among every segment of the Republican electorate in both states.  Notably, Gingrich is holding commanding leads against all comers among Tea Party voters, snagging an outright majority in Florida (53%) and a solid plurality in Montana (42%).

Public Policy Polling makes an interesting, if not critical, point about Gingrich's support in battleground Florida and elsewhere:

Gingrich's strength in Florida points to one of the aspects of his candidacy that hasn't received a ton of attention yet: his appeal to senior citizens.  Florida has one of the oldest Republican electorates in the country and with voters over 65 he's at 54%.  That sort of support from seniors has become the rule for Newt in our polls.  Here's all our data on that from the last 3 weeks:

Republican primary electorates can skew pretty old so Gingrich's support on that front bodes very well moving forward.

The analysis of Gingrich's surge comes with a cautionary note from Public Policy Polling:

As strong as Gingrich is polling right now it's still important to keep in mind that his support is soft.  In Florida only 44% of his voters are strongly committed to him, with 56% saying they could change their minds.  In Montana only 36% of his voters are strongly committed to him with 64% saying they could change their minds. 

But as the Washington Post reports, Mitt Romney and his advisors are beginning to take Gingrich's challenge seriously.  Romney and his brain trust have begun gaming scenarios to counter Gingrich's threat. 

The question looming over the race is whether Gingrich will suffer the same fate [as Perry, Bachmann, and Cain]. Increasingly, Romney's advisers believe he will not. They are calculating that primary voters will overlook Gingrich's rocky career in public life - including ethics charges, extramarital affairs and a decade of trading his influence to enrich himself.

GOP voters could well be discounting Gingrich's foibles.  But Gingrich's support hasn't solidified and Romney hasn't gone on the attack, which he'll likely be forced to do if Gingrich's momentum continues. 

The GOP presidential nomination is up for grabs.  The Christmas season may not be about goodwill - among GOP presidential aspirants, anyhow.  But a bare-knuckled brawl right into the January GOP contests. 

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