TAMPA (CBS Tampa) — The surprise announcement that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was not giving an endorsement ahead of the Jan. 31 primary has taken a toll on Mitt Romney in the Sunshine State.
Romney has seen his lead shrink considerably after his second-place finish in South Carolina, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.
The poll shows that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has erased a 12-point deficit over the last few weeks, as Romney now holds a slim lead of 36 percent to Gingrich’s 34 percent among GOP voters.
Jeb Bush telling Bloomberg News that he was staying on the sidelines was a shock to many as his father, former President George H.W. Bush, told the Houston Chronicle that “Romney is the best choice for us.”
Larry Sabato, the director of University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told CBS Tampa that it was “puzzling” that Bush was keeping out of the primary given his political influence in Florida.
“Many thought that once patriarch George H.W. Bush all-but-endorsed Mitt Romney, the sons would follow suit — especially Jeb — given Florida’s prominence in the early lineup,” Sabato said.
With Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio not taking sides either, Sabato believes that both political figures are waiting to wade out the candidates.
“Either they are not sold on any of the remaining candidates, or they don’t want to make enemies by picking one,” Sabato told CBS Tampa. “Maybe they sense that many Tea Party Republicans are not fond of the politics of anointment and appointment.”
The loss of Florida could be devastating to Romney after he promised to “reset” his campaign following South Carolina. And the lack of support from Jeb Bush is hurting Romney in the state.
“Romney needs help to get back traction, and so far he’s receiving surprisingly little of it from the party establishment, even though behind the scenes they are in a panic about a possible Gingrich nomination,” Sabato said.
Bush told Bloomberg News that both Romney and Gingrich have courted his endorsement. “I intend to help whoever wins the nomination,” he said.
In 2008, Sen. John McCain won the Florida GOP primary as Romney finished second with 31 percent of the vote. President Obama won the state of Florida during the 2008 election.
CBS Tampa has reached out to Jeb Bush and the Romney campaign for comment.