The Washington Times - January 25, 2012, 08:50AM

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows that Newt Gingrich has erased Mitt Romney’s 12-point lead in Florida, as the two men campaign ahead of the state’s nomination contest next week.

Mr. Romney, the survey shows, now holds a slim 36 percent to 34 percent lead over the former House speaker among likely Republican primary voters.


Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum receives 13 percent, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul has 10 percent.

“Florida is essentially a dead heat and a two-man race between Gov. Mitt Romney and Speaker Newt Gingrich entering the last week of the campaign,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The news, though, gets worse for Mr. Romney. A majority of those surveyed after Mr. Romney’s second-place finish in South Carolina favored Mr. Gingrich, who won the Palmetto State by a wide margin and has been working to solidify himself as the conservative alternative to Mr. Romney in the GOP nomination race.

“Gingrich’s South Carolina victory clearly gives him a boost in Florida,” Mr. Brown said. “The question is whether there is more of that to come, or whether any bump from a previous victory will dissipate as happened to Rick Santorum in New Hampshire after winning Iowa and Romney in South Carolina after taking New Hampshire,” Mr. Brown added.

Mr. Romney is viewed more favorably than Mr. Gingrich and does better with female voters. Mr. Gingrich wins men, evangelical Christians and tea party supporters.

Mr. Romney, meanwhile, is seen as best able to handle the economy and most in line with voters’ values. And Mr. Gingrich is viewed as having the knowledge and experience to be president, being a strong leader and better at handling foreign policy.

“Newt Gingrich’s edge is that he is the candidate with momentum and the one viewed as best on a host of issues and characteristics important to voters. Romney, however, holds the potential trump card that on the question most important to voters — who can best fix the economy — he is seen as the best candidate,” Mr. Brown said.