Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stormed to a convincing win in Florida’s Republican presidential primary Tuesday, bolstering the front-runner’s argument that he is the best candidate to compete with President Barack Obama in swing states in the general election.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had 46 percent of the vote to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 32 percent. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Texas Congressman Ron Paul were running far behind, with 13 and 7 percent of the vote, respectively.
Here’s where sh*t stands, the day after:
The Tampa Bay Times‘ Adam Smith offers five lessons from the primary, including:
“…it looks like tea party Republicans have reached a ceiling in Florida. Two out of three Republicans say they support the tea party, but overwhelmingly the most important candidate quality for Florida Republicans was their perceived ability to beat Obama. On that score Romney led everybody else by more than two to one.”
Mitt Romney won 48% of his entire vote margin from just five counties — the Southeastern and traditionally Democratic counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, as well as the swing counties of Pinellas and Hillsborough.
The campaign is now set to enter a new phase, with a comparatively lighter period for candidates in the next month.
Nevada and Maine host caucuses on Saturday; Romney won in the former (which has a sizable Mormon population) in 2008. Colorado and Minnesota each hold caucuses on Feb. 7, too. Because caucuses typically favor candidates with money and organization, Romney and Ron Paul, who’s focused intently on those contests, are expected to perform best.
Those are the only nominating contests until late February, when Arizona and Michigan host its primaries. The Wolverine State is expected to strongly favor Romney — it’ where he was raised and his father served as governor.
The structure of the calendar means that Romney could work to secure a stranglehold on the race for the nomination or, if nothing else, dismiss competitors like Gingrich with the kind of relentless advertising that took its toll on the former speaker in the last week.
Can Romney win the South?
Steve Kornacki has doubts: The former Massachusetts governor’s poll numbers have been worse in Dixie than anywhere else in the country. And while there hasn’t been extensive polling in individual Southern states, there were signs late last year that Gingrich, a nominal Southerner who represented Georgia in the House for 20 years, enjoyed unusual strength in the region. In early and mid-March, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana will all vote; Gingrich may see in these states an opportunity to recapture his South Carolina magic. (Virginia, which votes March 6, would also seem a natural Gingrich target — if he’d qualified for its ballot.)
Should Gingrich keep running?
Dan Amira thinks so: There’s no telling what horrible things could befall Romney in the coming months. Maybe some damning tax revelations will leak out. Maybe a former Bain executive will turn up and admit that he and Romney used to smoke cigars filled with $100 bills as they laughed maniacally about the companies they’d looted. Maybe Romney will be caught on camera insisting that corporations are more person like than fetuses. You can never know. If a major gaffe should damage Romney, it’s not going to help Gingrich unless he’s still in the race.
Gingrich’s loss in Florida “was a profound rejection of his candidacy by voters in one of the biggest, most important swing states, and pressure could mount on Mr. Gingrich to drop his insurgency bid,” the New York Times reports.
“Still, he said he would not back down. Framed by signs that read ’46 states to go,’ Mr. Gingrich told supporters at a convention center ballroom here on Tuesday night: ‘We are going to contest every place, and we will win.'”
“The Gingrich campaign is banking on its ability to accumulate delegates, even if in a drip, drip, drip fashion, and to demonstrate enough strength until voting takes place in a succession of Southern states starting on Super Tuesday, March 6. The South is where Mr. Gingrich’s perceived strength lies, with his big victory in South Carolina on Jan. 21 as Exhibit A.”
Bill Galston warns Democrats not to underestimate Romney:
Romney’s support among Floridians is identical now to what it was three months ago. Voters interviewed after his defeat in South Carolina viewed him just as favorably as did those interviewed before that contest. And even nationally, adults interviewed in the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey give Romney exactly the same share of the vote as they did last November (or last June, for that matter). As of now, anyway, Romney may be bruised, but the primary fight has not administered anything like a knockout blow to his general election prospects.
…from Gov. Rick Scott:
“Congratulations to Governor Mitt Romney on his victory tonight. Clearly, his message of restoring economic prosperity to our nation has resonated with voters. Floridians, like voters around the country, are focused on jobs and know that we need a strong federal partner who is committed to lowering taxes, cutting regulations, and allowing companies to out-compete their global competitors.
“Floridians have already played a critical role in choosing our party’s nominee, and I look forward to welcoming our nominee back to our great state for the Republican National Convention in Tampa this summer.”
…from Rod Smith:
“Mitt Romney won in Florida tonight for a very simple reason — he ran the most negative primary contest ever. Romney and his allies outspent Newt Gingrich by nearly 5 to 1, almost all of it on negative advertising. He may have won this contest, but he lost the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the people of Florida. Floridians, like all Americans, are looking for positive ideas that will rebuild an economy that works for the middle class. But they won’t find them during this primary campaign. Instead, Romney has flipped between negative attacks on Gingrich and distortions to his own positions, in a blatant attempt to pander to seniors and Latino voters. There’s a reason a vast majority of Florida voters want someone new to jump in this race – they know they can’t trust Mitt Romney to stand by his beliefs or stand by anything that helps average Americans get ahead.”