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Poll: Romney and Gingrich neck-and-neck in Florida

 

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads former House Speaker Newt Gingrich by two points in Florida, a margin well within a new poll's margin of error, reflecting a close race in the key primary.

Thirty-six percent of Republicans likely to vote in Florida's primary said they intend to vote for Romney; 34 percent would choose Gingrich, according to a CNN/TIME/ORC poll released Wednesday.

The poll underscores the tightness of what has essentially become a two-man race in the largest state yet to hold its nominating contest in the past month. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has seen his numbers plummet to 11 percent from 19 percent in CNN's last poll of Florida, conducted Jan. 13-17. Nine percent of Florida Republicans voiced support for Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who is not competing in earnest in Florida's primary.

The new data reflect the closeness of the race following Gingrich's win in the South Carolina primary last Saturday; Romney had led the former speaker by a 25-point margin in the previous version of this poll, a lead that's shrunk to two points, within the five percent margin of error of this survey.

The poll is the first statewide survey in Florida conducted completely after South Carolina's primary, in which Gingrich trounced Romney by 12 points, reviving his campaign and seemingly claiming the mantle of the candidate who presents a conservative alternative for Romney.

In the intervening days since that primary, the Romney campaign has spent millions on advertising assailing Gingrich's record, and a super PAC spending on Romney's behalf has spent millions more. A pro-Gingrich super PAC has also reserved millions in ads, but it's still dwarfed by the spending done by Romney forces in the state.

Moreover, Romney's been voicing sharper criticism of Gingrich and his record in Congress and advocacy work for Freddie Mac, most pointedly in a high-rated debate on Monday night in Florida.

To that end, the CNN poll suggests that Romney might have regained some footing against Gingrich in recent days. While Gingrich led Romney, 38 to 32 percent, in Sunday's polling, respondents on Monday and Tuesday were slightly more for Romney, 38 to 29 percent.