Romney surges in Florida polls ahead of Jan. 31 primary

A Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald poll found Romney beating Gingrich, 42 percent to 31 percent, among likely Republican voters. In a Marist poll, which was released on Sunday, Romney leads Gingrich by an even bigger margin, 42 percent to 27 percent.

“The bottom line in all this is Romney’s sitting in the driver’s seat going into Tuesday,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College told NBC News.

According to the Tampa Bay Times poll, Romney leads in every region of the state. In 2008, McCain beat Romney in Florida, 36 percent to 31 percent, because McCain outperformed Romney among Hispanic voters even though Romney won the state’s white voters.

This year, according to the Tampa Bay Times poll, Romney leads Gingrich by 24 points among Hispanic voters.

Because of the onslaught of negative ads against Gingrich, Gingrich’s favorability numbers have plummeted in Florida.

Further, the Tampa Bay Times poll shows that 55 percent of Republicans had a favorable impression of Romney while only 41 percent had a favorable impression of Gingrich. While only 14 percent of Republicans had an unfavorable view of Romney, 32 percent had unfavorable views of Gingrich.

In addition, Romney also outperforms Gingrich among women. In the Marist poll, which has been consistent with the findings in the current batch of polls, Romney beats Gingrich among women voters, 38 percent to 20 percent.

Both polls showed the strength of Romney’s head start in Florida due to his financial and organizational strength.

According to the Marist poll, Romney led Gingrich among voters who had voted early or by absentee ballot by 22 points, 49 percent to 27 percent. In the Tampa Bay Times poll, half of those who had cast their ballots early did so for Romney. Since more than 400,000 people have voted early, these numbers give Romney an even bigger insurance policy or cushion going into Tuesday’s primary.