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Romney assumes confidence of front-runner after sustained attack on Gingrich

Jan. 28, 2012: Mitt Romney greets audience members at a campaign rally in Panama City, Fla.Reuters

With less than 48 hours until polls open in Florida, two new surveys show Mitt Romney with a double-digit lead over opponent Newt Gingrich in the Sunshine State primary race, a margin attributable in part to an ad campaign worth millions by Romney surrogates.

A new NBC/Marist poll shows Romney up 15 over Gingrich in Florida, 42 percent to 27 percent. Rick Santorum is third with 16 percent, followed by Ron Paul with 11 percent. Four percent said they are undecided.

A Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll released late Saturday night showed Romney ahead of Gingrich 42-31 percent among likely Republican voters. Paul and Santorum, who have not dedicated many resources to the Sunshine State, are far behind.

The distance between Romney and Gingrich, who rode into Florida with a substantial victory in South Carolina, has grown in part over a $6.8 million ad campaign in the final week before the vote. Romney surrogates, Restore Our Future, has picked up the tab, which has given Romney a 3-1 margin on television advertising.

On Sunday, Gingrich called the ad campaign an "amazing amount of money."

It's a "basic policy of carpet-bombing his opponents," Gingrich said of the Romney ads.

"We have a shot of winning, but frankly it's uphill against the sheer weight of Romney's money and the negativity of his campaign," Gingrich told "Fox News Sunday."

Gingrich ally Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and presidential candidate, said Romney's strategy is to "play Mr. Nice Guy until somebody gets close to him, and then he unleashes his attack machine."

Romney has spent much of his campaign in Florida targeting Gingrich over his discipline, temperament and ethics during and after his time as the House speaker in the 1990s.

On Sunday, he accused Gingrich of being part of the establishment he condemns.

"Your problem in Florida is that you worked for Freddie Mac at a time when Freddie Mac was not doing the right thing for the American people, and that you're selling influence in Washington at a time when we need people who will stand up for the truth in Washington," Romney told an audience in Naples.

Romney is looking ahead to the next-up Nevada caucuses -- airing ads in that state ahead of the Feb. 4 contest -- with the objective of wrapping up the nomination in short order. 

Gingrich has acknowledged the possibility he could lose in Florida but vowed to fight Romney to the party's national convention this summer.

"Ironically, if you look at the three national polls this week, every place elsewhere that he can't carpet bomb, the ideas I'm representing, the scale of change I represent, the conservative movement I represent, we actually have been pulling away from him in national polls," he said.

Paul, the Texas congressman, has also invested little in the Florida race and is looking ahead to Nevada, working to benefit from the grassroots impact of caucuses.

Santorum on Sunday cancelled his events after his 3-year-old daughter Bella was hospitalized. She suffers from a serious genetic condition.

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