The last batch of polls to come out before Tuesday's Florida primary show Mitt Romney to be a virtual lock for his first major primary win. The various polls show him leading Newt Gingrich by as much as 20 points to little as four, but the majority have him comfortably in double digits. FiveThirtyEight has a round-up of all the prominent projections, which it used to compiles its own forecast that gives Romney a 97% chance of victory.
Gingrich has continued to slip in recent days, as it appears that the primary schedule has finally started to work against him at a critical moment. After his upstart triumph in South Carolina, Gingrich needed to keep the pressure and the momentum up, but the 10-day gap before the vote in Florida has given Republicans too much time to consider their options. The last week has sapped him of all his juice (and drained quite a bit of his funding) while giving more and more Republican heavyweights a chance to back up Romney.
Making matters worse, after four caucuses (Nevada, Maine, Colorado, and Minnesota) in the next week, the next true primary won't be for another month, giving Romney even more time to play the waiting game and watch his rivals disintegrate. Given Gingrich's disadvantages in money and organization, it seems unlikely that he can generate the big upsets and positive headlines needed to keep the heat on Mitt. If Romney quietly piles up victories in those caucuses, as expected, the inevitability factor really starts to kick in.
The one big question mark, however, is Rick Santorum. Should he decide to drop out after Florida and throw his more conservative voters to Gingrich, that might be enough to put Newt back in the race. (In several polls, his support neatly mirrors the gap between the top two.) These are big ifs, of course. Gingrich swears he's in it until the convention and the proportional distribution of delegates will keep Mitt from mathematically securing the nomination for some time. But without a strong showing in Florida, the February doldrums will be tough for Newt to overcome. That's just too much time — and moon base stories — for the underdog to handle.