Politics & Government

Florida may be for Romney even before polls open

Florida's Republican primary looks as if it will be over before the polls even open.

Mitt Romney is surging in a state where these factors help ensure victory: television advertising, a strong mail program to bank early votes, fundraising, good poll numbers and a strong showing in South Carolina, where the vote immediately precedes Florida's Jan. 31 primary by 10 days.

Romney is dominating in every category. Romney announced Wednesday that he's advertising on Spanish language television -- a must to win the Republican vote in the largest, and most Hispanic Republican county in Florida, Miami-Dade. By contrast, his opponents have barely sent voters any mail. He also has $19 million in the bank. That's more than his rivals.

At the same time, a new poll from Quinnipiac University showed that, despite the shellacking he's taking from fellow Republicans for his venture-capital past, Romney is still likely to beat President Obama in Florida, whom he edges by a 46 percent to 43 percent spread. In the GOP primary, Romney is besting his nearest opponent, Newt Gingrich, by 10 percentage points. Rick Santorum is a distant third. Rick Perry's in single digits.

And those numbers will only break further in Romney's favor if South Carolina's most-influential Republican, Sen. Jim DeMint, is right about who wins his state. "I think Romney's going to win here," DeMint told radio host Mark Levin. "It's possible that Gingrich or Santorum might make another run at it here. Perry's spending some time here. But he doesn't seem to be getting any type of traction run of things."

DeMint also expressed concern with Gingrich and Perry, whom he didn't name, for criticizing how Romney enriched himself at Bain Capital, which profited by buying companies and laying people off. It's a potent message in states like Florida, where job loss and home foreclosures plague the economy. But it's a type of message that is probably more suited for a Democratic election, not a primary race for the conservative vote.

"I certainly don't like Republicans criticizing one of our own and sounding like Democrats," DeMint said. Later, he repeated himself: "It really worries me when some Republicans start sounding like Democrats."

When a senator like DeMint says something like that, Republicans in South Carolina listen.

If Romney wins South Carolina, where Gov. Nikki Haley has endorsed him, he'll be 3-0 heading into Florida, where he's having a fundraiser Thursday that could raise $1 million at the Palm Beach home of Miami Dolphins co-owner Steve Ross.

Romney would be the first candidate ever to win the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The momentum would likely be unstoppable heading into Florida, where television ads drive the electorate.

Romney would get a double-bang for his buck: He'll be featured on the nightly news and cable shows as the winner. And as Romney's advisers have said: "winning begets winning."

A Florida win begets the nomination