Do or Die for Romney in Florida?

If former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney loses the Florida primary next week, his 2012 presidential campaign strategy may go down in the annals of political history as one of the worst ever. Mitt had it all: money, name recognition, a grassroots organization, business experience, and experience running a presidential campaign. He must have thought, or should I say that his advisors must have thought, that he was a shoo-in for the GOP nomination. From his perspective, it must have looked as though all he needed to do was avoid a catastrophic blunder and the nomination was his for the taking. If that’s what he believed, he was wrong -- dead wrong.

Romney lost a close one in Iowa to Rick Santorum and won in New Hampshire.  Next, he went to South Carolina. With a commanding lead in the polls and with the support of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, he was looking forward to an easy win in the Palmetto State that was supposed to be followed in a matter of days by another win in the Sunshine State. But things didn’t go as planned. South Carolinians weren’t enamored with Romney’s campaign style that resembled Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope maneuver. He held himself above the fray, leaned against the ropes, and allowed his challengers, particularly Newt Gingrich, to pummel him. In a matter of days, Romney turned a sure victory in South Carolina into a whopping defeat and elevated Gingrich to the frontrunner position.

The Florida primary was supposed to be Romney’s firewall, the state where he would close out his opponents and wrap up the GOP nomination. Instead, he finds himself fighting for his political life, and his prospects for winning in Florida and nationally are looking worse with each passing day. As of January 24th, PPP’s Florida poll shows Gingrich at 38% (up 12 points since last week), Romney at 33% (down 13 points since last week), Rick Santorum at 13%, and Ron Paul at 10%. Gallup’s tracking poll for the GOP nomination shows Gingrich at 31% and taking off like a rocket, Romney at 27% and falling fast, and both Santorum and Paul at 12%. (A poll released yesterday shows Romney up by two points.) Update: Polls from Rasmussen and InsiderAdvantage this morning confirm this turn for Romney.

Making matters worse for Romney, he was unable to convince former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to endorse him, leaving open the possibility that he will endorse someone else or maybe that he will seek/accept the GOP nomination. In a Commentary article, Seth Mandel said, “Of all the many possible reasons Jeb Bush seems to have backed off his earlier intention to endorse Mitt Romney, Politico’s Ben White received the most plausible I’ve heard.  White tweeted yesterday that he heard from people close to Bush and was told: ‘Jeb won’t endorse in part because he knows Romney needs to show he can take down Newt w/out help.’”