Final Florida trends: Polls, spending and early-voting

The polls have opened in Florida , so all the agitation has now ceased as the (Republican) campaigns anxiously await the results. Will the week leading to Super Tuesday be suspenseful and chaotic? Or will McCain pretty much have wrapped up the nomination? The final round of polling released last night and this morning tells us very little about where this is going to end up:

  • Despite having released a poll yesterday afternoon, SUSA did a final check on the results polling through Monday night and found no late movement, with McCain at 31.6% and Romney at 31.2% (!). Giuliani is at 15% and Huckabee at 13%.
  • Among Democrats, Clinton has held firm and is up 52% to 28%, with 13% for Edwards. I will talk more tomorrow about how much this vote might matter.

  • ARG also came out with its final poll which shows Romney continuing to pick up steam, but the race is still a toss-up -- 34% Romney to 32% McCain -- with Huckabee at 12% and Giuliani at 11%. In the 4 polls taken this week by ARG, Romney gets 22%, 26%, 33% and 34% while McCain only rose from 29% to 32%. Late-deciders moving to Romney was confirmed by yesterday's PPP survey.

  • Yet, Zogby is showing momentum for McCain, who is now up 35% to 31%, up from a tie at 30% two days ago. Huckabee and Giuliani are tied at 13%.
The Romney campaign is confident that its vastly superior organization will help boost its results by a few points which could be the difference between losing and winning. Remember that McCain heavily concentrated on New Hampshire and to some extent on South Carolina and did not have the money to compete anywhere else, which puts him at a slight disadvantage in a large state like Florida. From last night's New York Times article: "[Romney's] Florida field staff, in the midst of an enormous get-out-the-vote operation, telephoned more than 100,000 voters in 30 counties over the weekend... Mr. Romney built a sophisticated grass-roots and fund-raising operation in the state over the last year, while Mr. McCain has had virtually no Florida infrastructure since his campaign stalled over the summer."

To get an idea of the magnitude of this discrepancy, consider that Romney outspent McCain on ads 8:1. That's taking into account all ads that have aired since September, when Romney started running ads, whereas McCain only launched his first in January. The spending totals in Iowa and New Hampshire were similarly disproportionate. To be fair to Romney, he did start with a significant name recognition disadvantage and he had to correct that. But the fact that he is failing to pull off victories with this kind of spending is stunning.

Finally, keep in mind that more than almost 600,000 Floridians have already voted and will not be going to the polls today. More than half of that total has cast their vote absentee. That will not only limit any last minute momentum shifts but will also mean that exit polls have to be read with great caution. Florida is one of the only states where early voting does not benefit McCain as in the other large states of Super Tuesday since Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have had a much larger effort to push people to lock in their votes than McCain did until recently.



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