Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is surging in polls and very likely to win the Florida primary, putting him back in the position of GOP front-runner after former House Speaker Newt Gingrich looked for a week as if he could win the nomination.
Here’s what it means for President Obama:
1. The strongest Republican candidate is looking strong again. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that his controversial comments aside, Democrats should be rooting for Gingrich to win the GOP nomination. In the poll, in a match-up against Romney, Obama leads by six points, but he is ahead 55-37 against Gingrich.
It again looks as if Obama will face the most electable Republican, Romney.
2. Romney will soon be back to attacking Obama as much as Gingrich. For the last two weeks, Romney has aimed most of his negative ads on Gingrich, looking to weaken his emerging rival. Romney aides say they won’t ignore the ex-speaker if Romney wins Florida, but expect the Romney campaign to again start looking towards the general election now and targeting Obama more.
3. In winning Florida, Romney may have weakened himself in the general election against Obama. Romney reemphasized his opposition to virtually any legislation on immigration that many Latinos favor, from the DREAM Act, which limits deportations of Latino young people going to college, to broader measures that would make it easier for illegal immigrants to stay in the country.
He also affirmed his support for getting rid of ballots written in languages other than English. That idea is very unlikely to ever become law, as the Voting Rights Act stipulates bilingual ballots if more than 5 percent of the eligible voters in an area are of a minority group that speaks another language.
But Romney’s embrace of that provision may not warm him to Latino voters, a critical bloc in Florida.
Cutting into Obama’s advantage of among Latinos in Florida could help a Republican win the state, and there is little evidence Romney is making any inroads. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Obama with a 16-point advantage among Latino voters in Florida, essentially the same margin he had in 2008 over John McCain.
4. “Super PACS” matter. These political groups that can spend unlimited amounts on candidates allowed Romney and his allies to overwhelm Gingrich with negative commercials on Florida television. The former House Speaker does have a Super PAC, but it is not spending as much money as Romney’s.
Romney’s Super PAC spending is a major danger for Obama. The president has a massive base of small donors who in 2008 were a huge benefit to him, helping him vastly outraise McCain. But in 2012, Romney’s wealthy backers can give millions of dollars to Super PAC’s and eliminate any fundraising advantage Obama has.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr