Florida will be a critical battleground in the 2012 presidential election. So Republicans better hope that Florida voters forget all of the nasty things their candidates have said about each other in advance of this Tuesday's primary.
For several days former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney attacked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as a man lacking in temperament, discipline and ethics during his time in Congress. Gingrich had been leading in state polls immediately following his victory in the South Carolina primary. But Romney and the pro-Romney super-PAC "Restore Our Future" have spent $6.8 million in television ads harshly critical of Gingrich.
As a result, Gingrich has fallen behind Romney in the latest Miami Herald poll released today. According to that poll Romney now has a 42% to 31% lead over Gingrich among Republicans going into Tuesday's state primary. Gingrich's poor performances in last week's two Florida debates, along with the tough Romney ads, have had a devastating impact on his campaign.
But Gingrich is a fighter. He told Fox News Sunday that Romney "has a basic policy of carpet bombing his opponents." Gingrich added, "He doesn't try to build up Mitt Romney, he just tries to tear down whoever he's running against." And in an interview on CBS's Face the Nation, Gingrich accused Romney of making false statements. "I think there's a very high likelihood we're going to win Florida because I think when people understand how many different times... he said things that weren't true, his credibility is going to just, frankly, collapse," Gingrich said.
Gingrich has zeroed in on Romney's credibility as his best chance for turning the tide in the primary's eleventh hour. On Face the Nation he defended his poor performance in the last debate. "I'm standing there controlling myself because I didn't want to get into a running fight at that moment when I knew what he was saying was so false when the better way to handle it is to get the data, lay it out, let people make the judgment on their own. I mean the election wasn't going to be the next morning."
Gingrich says he is going to take his fight all the way to the Republican convention where he predicts Romney will be challenged trying to get a majority of the delegates at the convention. "The Republican party will not nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase moderate from Massachusetts," Gingrich said Sunday.
Meanwhile, Romney has refocused most of his recent attacks in Florida on President Barack Obama and left it to his supporters to continue the attacks on Gingrich. Two million Florida Republicans may vote in the state's primary on Tuesday. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Representative Ron Paul trail the two leaders in the most recent Miami Herald poll.
Will all of the personal attacks the Republican candidates have made against each other have an impact in November's presidential election? Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus said on Face the Nation, "In the end, in a few months, this is all going to be ancient history and we're going to talk about our own little Captain Schettino, which is President Obama who is abandoning the ship here in the United States." But it is the many Republican personal attacks on President Obama that have helped divide the country since he took office.
President Obama carried Florida by a slim margin of 2.8% in 2008. While that state is still feeling the impact of the 2008 recession economic conditions there are slowly getting better. And now President Obama's campaign will have plenty of soundbites to use in its political commercials this fall, perhaps ending with the words, "I'm Barack Obama and I couldn't have said it any better!"