If the Newt surge persists over the next few months the biggest winner is going to be Barack Obama. We can see that pretty clearly in our newest Florida poll.
If Mitt Romney's the Republican nominee, Obama's in a lot of trouble in the Sunshine State. Obama leads Romney only 45-44, and given that the undecideds skew largely Republican he'd probably lose to Romney if the election was today. Obama being stuck in the mid-4os against Romney is par for the course in our Florida polling. In September Obama led 46-45, in June it was 47-43, and in March it was 46-44. The dial has barely moved all year.
But if Newt Gingrich is the Republican nominee it's a completely different story. Obama leads him 50-44 in a head to head. To find the last time a GOP Presidential candidate lost Florida by more than that you have to go all the way back to Thomas Dewey in 1948. Even Barry Goldwater did better in Florida than Gingrich is right now.
The conservative Republican base is certainly a lot more enthusiastic about Gingrich than they are about Romney right now. But when it comes to appeal to Democrats and independents, Newt just simply doesn't have it. Romney beats Obama by 7 points with independents. Gingrich trails Obama by 1 with them. Romney holds Obama to 78% of the Democratic vote. Obama gets 83% of his own party against Gingrich. And even among Republicans Gingrich loses 14% to Obama, while Romney sheds only 9%. Conservative Republicans are going to vote for Mitt in the end in the general whether they like him or not. It doesn't looks like that's necessarily the case for moderate Republicans when it comes to Newt.
This Florida poll is just one more piece of evidence: if the Republicans actually want to beat Obama they need to nominate Romney, love him or not.
Obama's Florida approval rating is 45% with 50% of voters disapproving of him. Obama took the state by 3 points, so his current -5 approval spread represents an 8 point decline from his 2008 standing. That means he's actually holding up better in Florida than he is nationally. He took the popular vote by 7 points in 2008 and now his national approval is a -8 spread at 44/52, for a national decline of 15 points. The large share of African Americans and Hispanics in the electorate is helping Obama to do better in Florida than he is in other swing states like Pennsylvania and New Hampshire that have much more heavily white populations.
Obama easily handles the rest of the Republican field: he's up 6 points on Ron Paul at 46-40, 12 on Rick Perry at 50-38, and 14 on Herman Cain at 51-37.
Full results here