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Romney holds advantage over Gingrich as Florida votes in Republican primary

The battle to face Barack Obama in the autumn presidential election steps up a gear as the sunshine state holds its primary today.

Mitt Romney throws bags of potato chips at reporters travelling with his campaign in Florida yesterday.
Mitt Romney throws bags of potato chips at reporters travelling with his campaign in Florida yesterday.
Image: Charles Dharapak/AP/Press Association Images

MITT ROMNEY LEADS in the polls as the state of Florida holds its Republican Party primary today.

The former governor of Massachusetts leads by as much as 16 per cent in some polls, ahead of his nearest challenger Newt Gingrich whose initial lead has dissipated after a series of poor debate performances.

The former House Speaker had been emboldened by a strong win in South Carolina earlier in the month but in the sunshine state that could prove as crucial to candidates now as it will be in the main autumn presidential election, it appears that Romney holds the advantage.

Candidates are battling it out in primaries and caucuses that will be held in every US state and some overseas territories until an eventual winner is crowned at the Republican Party’s convention in August. The winner will go on to face White House incumbent Barack Obama in the autumn.

The two other remaining candidates in the race, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, have abandoned their campaigns and are instead focusing on other states including Nevada, Minnesota and Colorado which hold their primaries next month.

“I’m beginning to feel we might win,” Romney told supporters in Tampa, the New York Times reports. The paper adds that Romney is hoping to win big in Florida possibly by as much as the 12-point margin Gingrich won by in South Carolina.

Still, Gingrich holds hope that even if he does not win in Florida, he can garner enough support in other states to take the matter all the way to the convention.

“He can bury me for a very short amount of time with four or five or six times as much money,” Gingrich said in a television interview yesterday. “In the long run, the Republican Party is not going to nominate … a liberal Republican.”

Candidates need 1,444 delegates to win the nomination. Delegates are accrued through a variety of means but mostly by performing strongly in the polls where delegates are this year being assigned proportionate to the vote candidates receive in some states, but not Florida which has a winner-takes-all 50 delegates.

Republican officials in Florida are anticipating a big turnout, more than 2 million voters, which is up from a record 1.9 million in the Republican primary in 2008.

More than 605,000 Floridians had already voted as of yesterday, either by visiting early voting stations or by mailing in absentee ballots, ahead of the total combined early vote in the Republican primary four years ago.

- additional reporting from AP

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Hugh O'Connell

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