Barack Obama's lackluster debate performance last week has dramatically altered the presidential race in Florida, with Mitt Romney opening up a decisive 7 percentage point lead, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll.
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.
Take Tampa Bay, the battleground region that invariably mirrors statewide results. A month ago, Obama had a 4 percentage point lead in Tampa Bay. This week, Romney led by 8 percent, 52 to 44. In Central Florida, Romney now leads by 6 points.
Likewise, Obama's lead among likely women voters in Florida fell from 15 percentage points last month to just 2 points, 49 percent for Obama and 47 percent for Romney.
Obama's once 11 point lead among likely independent voters had cascaded into a 13 point lead for Romney this week, 52 percent to 39 percent.
The poll found little change among Florida youngest voters, 18-34, or oldest voters, 65 and up. But those ages 35 to 64, who had been evenly divided a month ago, moved dramatically to the Republican nominee. Romney now has a nine point lead among voters age 35-49 and a 15 point lead among those between 50 and 64.
Especially ominous were the numbers for Hispanic voters, a demographic where the Obama campaign is banking on an advantage of at least 15 percentage points. The poll showed 44 percent of likely Hispanic voters favoring Obama and 46 for Romney, though the margin of error is higher with that smaller group of voters.
"We ran away from other countries in search of a more traditional United States," said Coral Gables resident Mary Gonzalez, who immigrated from Venezuela. "I think with the current president, the United States moves to (the left). And with Romney, I believe he can return the United States to its traditional course."
The bottom line? Obama appears to be in serious trouble in America's biggest battleground state.
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