Romney even with Obama in key states

Poll: Gingrich trails president, 54%-40%

- By Susan Page

WASHINGTON — Republican presidenti­al hopeful Mitt Romney essentiall­y ties Barack Obama in the nation’s key battlegrou­nds, a USA TODAY/GALLUP Swing States survey finds, while rival Newt Gingrich now trails the president by a decisive 14 percentage points.

That reflects a significan­t decline by the former House speaker since early December, when he led Obama by three points.

The poll of the dozen states likely to determine the outcome of November’s election addresses the electabili­ty argument that has driven many Republican­s: Which GOP contender has the best chance of denying Obama a second term?

In a head-to-head race, Romney leads Obama by a statistica­lly insignific­ant percentage point, 48%-47%, the survey finds.

But Obama leads Gingrich, 54%-40%. The president’s standing against him has risen 9 points

since early December; Gingrich has fallen by 8.

Gingrich fares less well than Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who trails Obama by 7 points, 50%-43%, and former Pennsylvan­ia senator Rick Santorum, who also trails by 7 points, 51%-44%.

“Gingrich’s efforts to win the Republican nomination have set back his efforts to win the general election,” says political scientist Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota. Trying to appeal to Tea Party conservati­ves has “moved him out of the mainstream of American politics.”

The Swing States survey focuses on the nation’s most competitiv­e battlegrou­nds: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvan­ia, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The findings presumably reflect the barrage of attacks on Gingrich’s temperamen­t and record by Romney and other prominent Republican­s, from Arizona Sen. John Mccain to former Senate majority leader Bob Dole. The former House speaker has drawn fierce fire since winning the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21 and surging to the top of national polls.

In Florida, which holds its primary Tuesday, Romney led Gingrich in a Marist Poll released Sunday by 15 points, 42%-27%.

Gingrich blamed his fall on negative TV ads aired by Romney and his allies. “He has a basic policy of carpet bombing his opponent,” Gingrich said on Fox News Sunday. “It has an effect.”

Romney, campaignin­g in Naples, Fla., said Gingrich should “look in the mirror” to see why his support has dropped.

Voters in both parties rate Romney higher than Gingrich on a series of positive characteri­stics.

Nearly six in 10 say Romney has the personalit­y and leadership qualities a president should have; 42% say Gingrich has those qualities. Fifty percent call Romney sincere and authentic; 38% say that of Gingrich.

Neither does particular­ly well when asked whether they understand the problems Americans face in their daily lives: 44% of those surveyed say that applies to each.

The survey of 737 registered voters Tuesday through Saturday has a margin of error of +/–5 percentage points.

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