Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are locked in a virtual dead heat just days before Florida’s pivotal Jan. 31 primary, according to a new TIME/CNN/ORC poll.
Romney earns the backing of 36% of the state’s registered Republicans, a slight edge over the 34% who prefer Gingrich. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who was belatedly declared the winner of the Iowa caucus, came in third in the survey, notching support from 11% of respondents. Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who is skipping Florida to concentrate on smaller caucus states, trails with 9%.
After three states produced three different winners, Florida has emerged as a turning point in the turbulent GOP primary season. The winner-take-all tussle for 50 convention delegates will test whether Gingrich’s momentum can survive a collision with Romney’s fat wallet and organizational clout in a large, diverse swing state with numerous media markets. In the days following Gingrich’s commanding victory in South Carolina, Romney’s lieutenants have launched bruising attacks on the former Speaker, recasting him as an unreliable leader who used his Washington connections to cash in as a lobbyist.