Could divide and conquer work for Mitt Romney one more time? Two polls released Thursday in the showdown state of Florida suggest that it might, unless Newt Gingrich can re-energize his populist, anti-establishment coalition before next Tuesday's vote.
From mid-December, when Romney launched his first offensive against Gingrich, through the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, divide and conquer was the decisive dynamic in the GOP race. Romney moved into the lead during that period because he consolidated the center of the party behind him more than any one of his rivals consolidated the right of the party against him. Instead, conservatives fragmented among a long menu of choices.
That pattern flipped in Gingrich's crushing South Carolina victory last Saturday. Gingrich ran better among the key elements of what could be called the GOP's populist wing-including evangelical Christians, strong tea party supporters, non-college voters, those earning less than $50,000 annually and voters who identify as very conservative-than Romney did among the opposite groups in the GOP's managerial wing (non-evangelicals, non-Tea Party supporters, moderates, and more affluent and college-educated voters.) In South Carolina, Gingrich actually won some of those more centrist and pragmatic groups. Even when he didn't, he held down Romney's margin among those groups-while running up his own advantage among their conservative mirror images.
The CNN/Time/ORC Florida survey released this afternoon looks less like South Carolina than it does like Iowa.
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