New NBC/Marist poll in SC, FL should worry Romney
He's ahead double digits in both state with a whopping 20 point advantage in South Carolina. MSNBC:
According to new NBC News-Marist polls, the former House speaker has now opened up commanding leads in South Carolina and Florida -- two states that historically have played important roles in deciding the eventual Republican nominee.
Fueled by the support from conservatives and the Tea Party, Gingrich is ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by nearly 20 points in South Carolina. The winner of that state's primary has gone on to capture each GOP nomination since 1980.
And he leads Romney by double digits in Florida, whose primary ultimately ended up deciding the party's pick in 2008.
"You can see why the Romney people are getting a little itchy," said Lee Miringoff, the director of Marist College's Institute for Public Opinion, referring to the Romney campaign's recent attacks on Gingrich.
Gingrich ahead "any way you slice it"
In South Carolina, which holds its presidential contest on Jan. 21, Gingrich gets the support of 42 percent of likely primary voters, including those leaning toward a particular candidate. That's a 35-point jump since October's NBC-Marist poll of the Palmetto State contest.
In Florida, Newt is up 15 points - 44-29. No other candidate breaks double digits in support.
Florida is not likely to play such a big role in deciding the nominee this time around due to the GOP dropping the winner take all delegate apportionment in all states.
But Romney cannot afford to lose both those states by such large margins. If Gingrich can build a substantial lead heading into Februrary and March, those same rules that might keep Romney in the game also make it very difficult to catch up. There are likely few states where Romney can expect a double digit victory which means any deficit in delegates he faces after the first month would have to be overcome inch by inch rather than taking huge chunks out of Newt's lead. Eventually, Mitt might run out of primaries and the nomination will be Newt's.
In Romney's favor; Newt's lack of organization means that he is fielding less than a full slate of delegates in several states. He failed to file in time to be on the ballot for Missouri's February 7 primary - not very important because MO chooses delegates via caucus with the primary a beauty contest - and he may miss filing for the Ohio primary. He has also failed to field a full slate of delegates in New Hampshire.
Still, Romney has to work to narrow the gap in those early primary states or he is going to find himself trying to keep Newt in sight as the process goes forward.