ATLANTA -- Newt Gingrich is the current favorite in Florida’s Jan. 31 Republican presidential primary, picking up supporters who fled Herman Cain to claim 41 percent in a poll conducted Tuesday night for the Florida Times-Union.
Gingrich has as much support as the next four candidates combined in the telephone survey of 513 registered voters who say they’re likely to cast ballots in the primary. The poll, conducted by InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research, has a margin of error of 4 percent.
Gingrich’s rise comes at the expense of Cain in light of claims by a Georgia woman that she had a 13-year affair with the married Cain. Although Cain denies the romance, it comes on the heels of allegations from multiple women who said he sexually molested them when he headed the staff of the National Restaurant Association, charges he also denies.
While Gingrich has been criticized for having affairs, too, none have surfaced recently. Some pundits have noted that the number and freshness of the accusations are what’s damaging Cain’s chances, especially when coupled with videos of gaffs he made when fielding foreign-policy questions.
The Times-Union poll was the first conducted in Florida since the woman claiming the affair broadcast her story on television. In it, Cain drops to third place with 13 percent, behind Mitt Romney’s 17. No other candidate is in double digits.
“I am totally shocked by these numbers,” said pollster Matt Towery, CEO of InsiderAdvantage. “Newt Gingrich is winning nearly 50 percent of the independent vote, but more importantly, the Republican vote which makes up the vast majority of the Florida Republican primary.”
Cain holds just 12 percent of Republicans and only 3 percent of independents.
“I have not seen a lead this large, this late in a Republican presidential primary season since I have been polling,” said Towery, who notes that his firm has never missed identifying the winner in Florida’s statewide contests.
Gingrich’s skeleton’s may be the reason women voters remain his weakest demographic group. Yet, he still gets 33 percent of them to Romney’s 17. With males, Gingrich commands 50 percent to Romney’s 18.
Gingrich and Cain hail from Florida’s northern neighbor, Georgia, while Romney is the former governor of Massachusetts. Still, Romney has been at or near the top of national polls since the campaign for next year’s nomination began.
Many conservatives, though, have sought an alternative to Romney, causing the lead in many early states to rotate almost monthly between the other GOP candidates. Gingrich has benefitted from the unusual number of televised debates this year in which he generally performs well, owing to his experience as a one-time college history professor and former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Towery’s firm identified Gingrich Monday as the new leading candidate in Iowa and South Carolina while tied with Romney in New Hampshire. If the trends hold, Gingrich could be in position to sweep the first four contests, possibly gaining enough momentum to steamroller Romney or other contenders all the way to the nomination.
Towery served as Gingrich’s campaign chairman during his later years in Congress. Since establishing his polling outfit, Towery said he holds to professional standards of objectivity and notes that other surveys and election returns eventually mirror his results.