Nightly News   |  January 30, 2012

Mitt Romney surges ahead

The former Mass. Gov. is leading the polls in Florida, something he attributes to his campaign’s new aggressive strategy. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports.

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>>> as we mentioned, so much of the other news out of florida has to do with tomorrow's presidential primary . after that big running start for newt gingrich out of south carolina , the polls have now swung mitt romney 's way big time , including our own nbc news/marist poll, which shows romney ballooning to a 15-point lead over gingrich . nbc's chuck todd is here with us to break down the numbers. we want to begin first with the reporting of peter alexander in florida .

>> reporter: brian, good evening to you. make no mistake right now, mitt romney is the heavy favorite going into tuesday's primary in florida . the bitter back and forth between romney and newt gingrich continues. today, romney was attacked by gingrich as dishonest and romney mocked gingrich back as desperate.

>> what a welcome. oh, my goodness, you guys are amazing.

>> reporter: with less than a day to go and the polls showing him with a commanding lead.

>> this is fun what a day this is. with a turnout like this, i'm beginning to feel we might win tomorrow, what do you think?

>> reporter: a confident mitt romney is dismissing his rival newt gingrich .

>> i know, it's sad. he's been flailing around a bit. trying to go after me for one thing or another. you watch and shake your head. it's been painfully revealing to watch.

>> reporter: this morning on the "today" show, romney credited his campaign's new strategy to be more aggressive for his recent surge.

>> we were getting wailed on by speaker gingrich and didn't respond well in south carolina . we decided we are going to respond, both the change and tactic, as well as the message have had a real impact here in florida .

>> reporter: today gingrich who has been consistently late for campaign events was greeted by much smaller crowds than last week, but he's not backing down. in a state with a large jewish population , gingrich pounced, using this new attack line on romney 's record as massachusetts governor .

>> he eliminated serving kosher food for elderly jewish residents under medicaid.

>> reporter: a cut to medicaid funding was among hundreds the romney campaign says the then-governor made during his state's budget crisis . it was later restored. campaigning with president reagan 's son michael, gingrich has been ridiculing romney as a massachusetts moderate for weeks is retooling his argument, blasting romney with a word designed to incite conservatives.

>> that party is not going to nominate somebody to is a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase.

>> reporter: gingrich is getting pummeled on florida 's air waves.

>> newt has a ton of baggage.

>> reporter: with $20 million already spent on largely negative ads, romney and his supporters outpaced the former house speaker and his super pac 4-1. gingrich insists he'll stay in this race through the convention, embracing the role of underdog if he continues to target the media.

>> as your nominee, i will not accept debates in the fall in which the reporters are the moderators, because you don't need to have a second obama person on the debate.

>> reporter: for their part, ron paul and rick santorum are spending their time and energy elsewhere. santorum is campaigning in minnesota after taking time off the trail to be with his 3-year-old daughter bella who is hospitalized with pneumonia.

>> peter alexander starting off our political coverage in florida tonight.