Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, left, was on the defensive for most of the night at Thursday's CNN debate while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, stayed on the offense. (Source: CNN)
Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) campaigns in Waterville, ME on Friday, skipping campaign stops in Florida for the delegates in the Pine Tree State. (Source: CNN)
Former Sen. Rick Perry (R-PA) speaks to supporters at a rally in Manchester, NH. The GOP presidential candidate hopeful had to skip campaign stops in Florida on Sunday after his daughter was hospitalized. (Source: Patrick Gensel/flickr)
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(RNN) - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is going into Tuesday's Florida primary with the same air of confidence that surrounded him just before former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took South Carolina, bolstered by opinion polls which have placed the Bay Stater ahead by more than 10 points.
The Florida primary has become a virtual two-man race between the pair while Sen. Ron Paul (R-TX) focuses on other states and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) cares for his ailing daughter. Both Gingrich and Romney have seen a lead in the polls since the former Speaker took the Palmetto State Jan. 21.
According to Rasmussen Reports, a public opinion polling group, Gingrich had a 7-point lead over Romney just days after his victory. On Saturday, favor had shifted back to Romney with a large, 16-point lead over the former House Speaker.
Meanwhile, the American Research Group found that Gingrich had an uphill battle ahead of him in the Sunshine State. Of the 36 percent of voters who have already cast their ballots, Romney leads the pack with 51 percent of the vote, while Gingrich follows with only 33 percent.
According to the American Research Group, Gingrich would need to win 49 percent of Tuesday votes in order to tie Romney at 43 percent.
"That represents all of the undecided vote, plus Ron Paul's expected vote on Election Day, or 75 percent of Santorum's expected vote on Election Day," the polling organization said.
Part of Gingrich's success in South Carolina was credited to his debate performance the week before the primary. However, his performance at Thursday's CNN debate was less than stellar, and his polling numbers fell accordingly.
Gingrich was put on the defensive multiple times, particularly by Romney, who criticized Gingrich for his plan to put a colony on the moon, among other things. Romney said the plan pandered to Florida voters.
"[You] go from state to state and promise exactly what the state wants to hear," Romney said, pointing to promises in New Hampshire to build a veteran's hospital and bury a power line coming in from Canada, and promises in South Carolina to build a new interstate highway and dredge the port in Charleston.
Of the four times the crowd booed at the debate, three were directed at comments made by Gingrich.
Meanwhile, Gingrich has been using interviews and TV ads to attempt to curb Romney's influence, calling him "systematically dishonest," in an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren on Saturday.
The Washington Post reported that a pro-Gingrich super PAC sunk $6 million into ads for the Florida race while CNN said a pro-Romney super PAC put $4.5 million into ad campaigns.
"I think we probably will win," Gingrich said. "The more people know about how liberal he [Romney] was in Massachusetts and the more they learn about how little regard he has for the facts, the harder the race is going to be for him. I think this is going to get steadily worse, not better, from Romney's standpoint."
In the race against Pres. Barack Obama, a Jan. 27 and 28 USA Today and Gallup poll found that Romney was considered the strongest contender. In the survey, potential voters were asked what vote they would cast if any of the four nominees made it to the final push for the White House.
Romney tied Obama with 48 percent of potential voters each. The next strongest candidate was Paul, who gathered 46 percent against Obama's 49 percent. Meanwhile, Santorum would take 43 percent to Obama's 51 percent, while Gingrich would only reach 41 percent against Obama's 51 percent.
Romney had been enjoying a comfortable lead since his win in New Hampshire on Jan. 10, before final tallies from the Iowa caucus revealed that former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-PA, had taken the Hawkeye State by a close margin of 34 votes.
On Saturday, Gingrich vowed that whatever the outcome of Tuesday's primary, he would continue on to the GOP convention.
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