President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are neck and neck in Florida, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.
The poll showed both Obama and Romney at 45 percent, just months after Romney held a 47-40 lead back in September, and a 46-43 lead two weeks ago.
Obama holds a strong 50-39 percent lead over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who along with Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul are vying for voters in Florida this week ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary.
Santorum trails Obama 49-40 percent while Paul trails 47-39 percent, according to the poll.
"At least in Florida and at least at this point in the campaign, the data indicates that Gov. Mitt Romney is clearly the stronger Republican candidate against President Barack Obama," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.
The poll, taken between Jan. 19-23, surveyed 1,518 registered voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent.
With five days to go until the Florida primary, Gingrich stepped up his attacks on Romney Thursday, as he was assailed by a barrage of television attack ads similar to what weakened him in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses. Most are from a super PAC supporting Romney, and some are from his own campaign.
Romney is guilty of lies, desperation and hypocrisy that should make “every American angry,” Gingrich told a crowd of more than 1,000 near Orlando.
"I think all the weight of his negative advertising and all the weight of his dishonesty has hurt us some," Gingrich said. But "I am not going to allow the moneyed interests that are buying those ads to come in here and to come into other states to misinform people and then to think we are too dumb to fight back."
In the week’s first debate in Tampa Gingrich took a much more moderate tone while Romney was the aggressor – but the former House speaker hinted that he will be more aggressive in the final debate Thursday night in Jacksonville.
There, Romney toured a factory that is closing because of the economy – criticizing President Obama while not mentioning his chief Republican rival. In his remarks, Romney indicated that he expects the atmosphere of the debate, including the audience, to be lively.
"There may be some give and take," Romney said. "That's always fun and entertaining, I know. If you all could get there, we'd love to see you all there cheering."
Romney and Gingrich are in a dead heat in Florida, with the latest Quinnipiac poll Wednesday showing Romney up by just two points, 36 percent to 34 percent.
Santorum and Paul are lagging far behind, and both have largely set their sights elsewhere, though they will participate in Thursday’s CNN debate.