Poll: Romney holds FL lead, has edge with Hispanics, women

A new poll finds Mitt Romney maintaining his strong lead over rival Newt Gingrich in Florida's GOP primary thanks to support from Hispanic and women voters and topping President Obama among likely voters in a head-to-head matchup.

The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll released Saturday night finds Romney with support from 42 percent of likely GOP voters, besting Gingrich by 11 points. Gingrich at 31 percent is followed by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum at 14 percent and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) with 6 percent.

Gingrich had led Romney early last week after a late surge propelled him to victory in South Carolina's primary but Romney has turned the tables in Florida thanks to an aggressive performance at a Thursday debate in Jacksonville and a steady stream of super-PAC funded ads hammering Gingrich.

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Brad Coker, a pollster with Mason Dixon Research & Associates who conducted the survey, suggested it unlikely that Gingrich could close the gap with Romney without a big misstep by the former Massachusetts governor's campaign. 

“What does Gingrich need to do? I would say Romney would need to implode,” said Coker according to the Miami Herald.

The new poll mirrors the findings of Friday's Quinnipiac University survey showing Gingrich trailing Romney by 9 points, 38 percent to 29 percent.

The Herald/Times survey found that Romney runs best in heavily-populated southeast Florida where half of all voters back him. Gingrich however only gets a quarter of support from those voters.

Gingrich also suffers from a gender gap with female voters who back Romney by 19 percent over Gingrich. 

The former House Speaker is in his third marriage and has faced questions about his personal life after former ex-wife Marianne Gingrich alleged he wanted an "open relationship" when they were married, a claim Gingrich has denied.

Hispanic voters who propelled Arizona Sen. John McCain to a win in the 2008 Florida GOP primary are now rallying behind Romney, the poll finds. 52 percent of Hispanic voters favor him with 28 percent backing Gingrich. 

The poll also shows Romney well-positioned to challenge Obama in the November general election. In a hypothetical head-to-head match-up, Romney beats Obama by 48 to 44 percent, however the edge is within the poll's margin of error.

The survey also shows Romney winning Hispanic support against Obama 53 percent to 37 percent.

The poll was conducted through a telephone survey of 800 registered Florida voters Jan. 24 to 26 with a 3.5 percent margin of error. For GOP primary questions, the margin of error was 4.5 points.

The poll was conducted before Saturday evening's late endorsement of Gingrich by businessman and former presidential candidate Herman Cain.

Florida's primary will be held on Tuesday Jan. 31.