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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Romney tries to trump Gringrich’s supporters

ORLANDO, Fla. — Looks can be deceiving in Florida’s feisty Republican presidential primary.

Mitt Romney has been drawing small crowds all week. The insurgent Newt Gingrich has hosted big, boisterous rallies. Yet the former Massachusetts governor has pulled far ahead of the former House speaker in statewide polls.

The preference for campaign venues makes sense to analysts — and the campaigns.

“Romney has a good organization and he’s building off of it,” said Peter Brown, the Orlando-based assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Gingrich is the outsider candidate and he’s challenging the establishment.”

Romney — who has had a campaign presence in Florida for months and a money advantage that has him blistering away at Gingrich in TV ads — can host small, even intimate gatherings, confident that those there either have been invited or are diehard supporters who will spread the word to friends and neighbors.

Gingrich, on the other hand, lacking Romney’s disciplined organization, has to show energy and momentum to convince voters that there’s a bandwagon worth jumping on. It also plays off his strategy as positioning himself as the spirited outsider in the race. And Gingrich feeds off large crowds restless with the direction of the country: Witness his performance in the spirited South Carolina debate that gave him an edge heading into Florida.

Historically, strategies like Gingrich’s work only in smaller states — one reason he won the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary.

But in states like Florida, where an estimated 2 million people will cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary, organization matters. The Romney campaign was targeting Florida Republicans with mailers weeks ago when they began to get their absentee ballots, and thousands voted before the candidates crossed the state line.

Romney has opened up an 11 percentage point lead in the latest Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll, taken Tuesday through Thursday. As his numbers have sunk, Gingrich’s rallies may have begun to reflect it. A Saturday gathering at an Orlando Hispanic community center drew 60 people — and left 420 empty seats.

But Gingrich drew more than 1,000 Sunday to the Villages at Lake Sumter Landing, a retirement complex in central Florida.

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