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Gingrich pads leads in Florida, S.C., new polls say

DES MOINES — Newt Gingrich has opened up a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney in three early states and significantly narrowed the gap in New Hampshire, the state that has been the firewall for the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign, according to a set of new polls by CNN and Time magazine.

In Florida, a state where Romney’s campaign has put early emphasis, Gingrich is leading Romney by a 2-to-1 margin, according to the poll by CNN/Time/ORC International. If the election were held today, 48 percent of likely Republican voters in Florida said they would support Gingrich, compared with 25 percent for Romney.

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The former House speaker also has a 2-to-1 lead in South Carolina, with 43 percent saying they would support Gingrich and 20 percent saying they would support Romney.

Less than half of the voters in each state said they had made up their mind, illustrating the volatility of the race. But with voters starting to make their choices in less than four weeks, Gingrich’s numbers surpass those for Romney’s other would-be challengers, who briefly rose and then fell again.

In New Hampshire, the state where Romney has put the greatest emphasis, Gingrich is behind by only 9 points in the CNN poll. Gingrich recently won the endorsement from the Union Leader in Manchester — a paper that doesn’t hesitate to put harshly worded editorials on the front page — which could be a factor in the final weeks of the campaign.

A number of recent polls have also showed Gingrich opening up a lead here in Iowa, where caucus-goers will jumpstart the nominating process on Jan. 3. In the CNN poll, 33 percent of those polled said they would support Gingrich, compared with 20 percent for Romney.

Representative Ron Paul has also remained a strong presence, running in a close third in New Hampshire and essentially tied for second with Romney in Iowa.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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