Florida primary: Romney eyes win over Gingrich
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is seeking a big win over Newt Gingrich in Florida's crucial primary.
Polls are closing in the Sunshine State, where the former Massachusetts governor took a double-digit lead into polling day.
The swing state could prove pivotal in November's election, and is the fourth and largest state so far to hold a nominating contest.
The candidates are vying to challenge Barack Obama for the White House.
The winner in Florida will take 50 delegates out of 1,144 needed to win the presidential nomination at the Republican convention in August.
Polls close at 19:00 local time, although Florida spans two time zones, meaning the last ballots will be cast at 01:00 GMT on Wednesday.'Painfully revealing'
Trailing way behind, the other two hopefuls, Texas congressman Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, have abandoned Florida to campaign in other states.
In Florida, Mitt Romney's wealth has been an issue. So is being rich now a negative even in a race on the right of politics?
Many in Florida, as across the US, feel betrayed by the system. In this state, incomes rose as new properties sprouted out of the ground, but now one in every 360 homes is in foreclosure. Houses prices have plummeted. There seems no end in sight.
Newt Gingrich is an angry politician and he's picking up on a sense of resentment that some of the elite (a favourite word in America at the moment) have escaped crash and crisis - and indeed have made money out of it.
Mr Gingrich's attacks have not stopped Mr Romney surging ahead, and that may tell you something. But there is a deep, inchoate, slow-burning anger in America. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have both tapped into that - but so far no politician has harnessed its power.
A polling average placed Mr Romney at least 13 points ahead of Mr Gingrich on the eve of the vote.
But his advantage may be as much as 20 points, according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS poll released on Monday.
In a sign of mounting confidence, Mr Romney cancelled a final campaign event that had been scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Mr Gingrich, a former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, launched a last-minute flurry of local television interviews and appearances at polling stations in Orlando and elsewhere.
Correspondents say a Romney win on Tuesday would be unlikely to kill the Gingrich candidacy, but could give the former governor unstoppable momentum.
In a separate development, Mr Gingrich is being sued by a songwriter who accuses him of having repeatedly used the rock anthem Eye of the Tiger since 2009 without permission at political events.
Sarah Palin's support
The two rivals have waged an increasingly bitter personal battle in Florida.
Mr Romney told a large crowd in Dunedin on Monday: "I know, it's sad. He's [Mr Gingrich's] been flailing around a bit trying to go after me for one thing or the other. You just watch it and you shake your head. It's been kind of painfully revealing."
In a state with many Jewish retirees, Mr Gingrich said on Monday that Mr Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, had vetoed funding for kosher meals under the Medicare programme for the elderly.
Mr Romney, 64, has been the front-runner for much of the race, but was thrashed by his rival in South Carolina's primary earlier this month.Continue reading the main story
The former governor has since overturned his rival's lead after two muscular debate performances and a blitz of attacks.
Mr Romney and his allies have pumped more than $14m (£9m) into Florida TV advertising, mainly attacking Mr Gingrich, whose campaign and supporters could only spend about $3m in reply.
The Romney campaign has sought to portray Mr Gingrich as an erratic, Washington influence-peddler.
Mr Gingrich, 68, a former Georgia congressman, has accused Mr Romney - a private equity tycoon and one of the richest ever US presidential candidates - of being a closet liberal who is trying to buy his way to the White House.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has urged Florida voters to back Mr Gingrich, and keep the contest going.
A victory for Mr Romney in the Sunshine State would be his second, including the New Hampshire primary, since the race began earlier this month with Iowa's caucuses.
Mr Romney has a better-funded campaign, a superior national organisation and the backing of much of the Republican establishment. A series of polls has indicated he stands the best chance of beating Barack Obama.
But he has struggled to dispel misgivings among some conservatives about his Mormon faith and political record as governor of a liberal state.
In the past, Mr Romney has switched stances on abortion, gay rights and gun control, and passed a healthcare reform in Massachusetts that was the template for President Obama's overhaul of the system nationally.
The next contest after Florida will be on Saturday in Nevada, which Mr Romney won easily during his first run for the White House in 2008.