UPDATED: Could Florida Now Be Off The Table For Obama?

Two items which indicate that could be in the offing – even despite the fact that the president was in Miami today.

The first was when David Paleologos, who heads up Suffolk University’s polling operation which has been working Florida for months, told Bill O’Reilly yesterday that they’re pulling up stakes and getting out of the Sunshine State (along with Virginia and North Carolina) since he thinks the race is finished there…

When Paleologos said that, it set off a few explosions.

Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins was perplexed…

Leaving aside North Carolina, which is a pretty big stretch for the Obama campaign to win in the current electoral environment, it doesn’t make much sense to write off Florida and Virginia. But what informs Suffolk’s decision? Oh, I see here that Easley reports that the “latest Suffolk poll in Florida, taken before last week’s debate, showed Obama ahead 46 percent to 43 among likely voters” and “late last month Suffolk found Obama with a 2-point advantage” in Virginia. So that definitely suggests no more polling needs to be done.

The latest polls conducted in Florida, by Rasmussen and We Ask America, give Romney a two and three point lead, respectively. In Virginia, the latest poll, from Public Policy Polling, gives Obama a three point lead. At the moment, the HuffPost Pollster poll averages in Florida and Virginia show Romney surging to slight leads in those states — by 1.2 percent and 0.6 percent respectively. If Suffolk has polling numbers that suggest Romney is achieving some significant amount of escape velocity, those numbers would be incredibly useful to everyone who conducts poll averages. Since Suffolk isn’t going to provide those numbers, the races in Florida and Virginia will be captured, in the rolling averages, as much closer than Suffolk insists that they are.

Linkins also cited a University of North Florida poll which had Obama in a 49-45 lead.

New York Magazine’s Dan Amira offered even more caustic reactions…

So Paleologos called Florida for Romney because their most recent poll showed Obama with a shaky lead. We’re … even more confused now.

Looking for some answers, we asked some of Paleologos’s fellow pollsters what they thought of the decision. None of them had very flattering things to say.

“I think all three of those states are still toss-ups,” Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen told us. “We’ve already polled Virginia since the debate and Obama was up by 3. I don’t agree with his assessment, and I don’t know why he would have made it without even conducting any polling after the debates.”

Gary Langer, who runs the ABC News/Washington Post poll, quipped tartly, “With that kind of foresight, we should find out who he likes in the fifth at Aqueduct.”

SurveyUSA CEO Jay Leve was harsher. “This guy from Suffolk is obviously a jackass,” he said.

But Paleologos might just have been ahead of the game. Because today, the Tampa Bay Times is out with a poll done by Mason-Dixon which shows the Sunshine State slipping into the Romney column…

The survey conducted this week found 51 percent of likely Florida voters supporting Romney, 44 percent backing Obama and 4 percent undecided. That’s a major shift from a month ago when the same poll showed Obama leading 48 percent to 47 percent — and a direct result of what Obama himself called a “bad night” at the first debate.

The debate prompted 5 percent of previously undecided voters and 2 percent of Obama backers to move to Romney. Another 2 percent of Obama supporters said they are now undecided because of the debate.

“There’s no question in my mind that debate made people stand up and pay attention, and it really wiped away any questions people had about Romney, whether they were undecided or soft for Obama,” said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the poll for the Times and its media partners.

Across the board, from who is better suited to improve the economy, to who will protect Medicare, to looking out for the middle-class, to handling foreign policy, likely Florida voters now favor the former Massachusetts governor over the president.

“It’s a very big shift since the debate, and where the shifts are taking place are very, very interesting because they are the types of shifts you see in Florida when something starts to break one way or another,” said Coker, likening it to when Ronald Reagan shot past Jimmy Carter in 1980.

When pollsters start talking about 1980 and you’re a Democrat, it’s bad news.

But there was this as well…

“You cant say it’s over, but if nothing changes — no major gaffes, no big stories that come out of nowhere, relatively equal debate performances where nobody really outdoes the other — I think Florida is going to fall into the Romney column,” Coker said. “I think once voters fall off of Obama it’s going to be harder for Obama to bring them em back.”

Ouch.

The paper noted that there’s another poll out there that Marist did for NBC and the Washington Post which has Obama with a one-point lead. But it also politely said the Marist poll was crap…

Not all the polling news was bleak for Obama Thursday. An Oct. 7-9 NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist Florida poll found significantly different results, with Obama leading Romney among likely Florida voters 48 percent to 47 percent, and well ahead of Romney among women. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

A couple differences between the Marist poll and Mason-Dixon: Mason-Dixon, which has been polling in Florida for 28 years, uses a survey sample based on people’s voter actual registration to match the electorate in Florida, while Marist uses a sample based on whether people say they consider themselves a Republican, Democrat or independent. About 20 percent of the likely voters in the Marist poll were Hispanic, while 13 percent were Hispanic in the Mason-Dixon poll, more in line with the Florida voting patterns. Marist had Obama leading among Hispanics 47 percent to 45 percent.

And of course the obligatory disbelief from the Obama camp…

The Times poll “is just not rooted in reality,” senior Obama adviser David Plouffe said Thursday. “We got 57 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit (polls) last time. We think we’ll probably push 60 or above this time.”

Plouffe told the Times the Obama campaign believes it leads in Florida by a percentage point or two and that it’s floor of support in the state is at least 47 percent: “It’s impossible for us to be at 44 in Florida.”

Plouffe is either a genius or those are famous last words.

Either way, though, there seem to be a larger and larger number of pollsters who don’t share the Obama campaign’s version of reality – or at least the one it’s presenting in public.

But if the president’s schedule and the campaign’s expenditures begin to show a de-emphasis on Florida, that’s a sure sign they’ve picked up on what Paleologos and Mason-Dixon see.

UPDATE: Now Rasmussen

Mitt Romney has crossed the 50% mark for the first time to widen his lead to four points in Florida.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Florida Voters finds Romney with 51% support to President Obama’s 47%. Two percent (2%) remain undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

This is the widest gap between the candidates in surveys this year, but Florida remains a Toss-Up in the Rasmussen Reports Electoral College Projections. Prior to these findings, the candidates have been within two points of each other in Florida in every survey since April. Last week, it was Romney 49%, Obama 47%.

Obama carried Florida over John McCain in 2008 by a 51% to 49% margin.

Ninety-six percent (96%) of likely voters in the Sunshine State say they are certain to vote in this year’s election. Among these voters, it’s Romney 51%, Obama 47%.

Ninety-two percent (92%) of likely Florida voters say they have already made up their minds which candidate they will vote for. Romney leads 52% to 48% among these voters.

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