Florida Primary Results: Mitt Romney Wins Big, Newt Gingrich Stumbles, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul Fail to Have Impact

Mitt Romney won Tuesday’s Florida primary by a landslide, cementing the former Massachusetts Governor as the Republican front-runner in the 2012 presidential race. Romney, polling with a double-digit lead for days, easily beat out closest competitor Newt Gingrich.

Romey won with a estimated 47% of the vote to Gingrich’s 31%. Rick Santorum came in with 13%, while Rep. Ron Paul trailed heavily with 7%

Romney’s Florida win proves that he is capable of fighting through considerable adversity. But what is most telling is not that Romney was able to win the Sunshine State, but that he was able to do it in such a dominating fashion. As early as last Monday, Gingrich had surged ahead in the Florida polls, leading 41% to Romney's 32%, after a surprising 12-point South Carolina primary win.

Romney completely turned the tables in only seven days’ time. Yesterday polls conducted by the American Research Group showed Romney leading Gingrich by 12 points, polling 43% compared to 31%.

Romney’s Florida win also shows that he is able to bring in the Latino and Tea Party vote – two critical Republican demographics. In the first three primary contests, 98% of voters were white. Florida has the third largest Hispanic population in the country and 11% of Florida Republicans are Latino. Romney beat Gingrich 2-to-1 with Hispanic voters.

Exit polls showed that over two-thirds of Florida voters considered themselves Tea Party. The Tea Party is a significant driver of the GOP, with two in three Republicans saying they support the movement.

Women favored Romney over Gingrich 51% to 29%.

Romney’s Florida win will mean that Gingrich will need to be scrappy for future votes, likely forcing the GOP primary to take the air of a dirty haze of negative attacks. The Florida primary was reportedly the most negative primary in history. An estimated 92% of ads aired over the week were negative attack ads. Florida will likely be a microcosm of things to come in other primaries and caucuses. And Gingrich very much has a lot to fight for. Gallup shows Gingrich and Romney statistically tied in a national poll.

Santorum and Paul both look like marginal figures moving forward. Paul has set his sights on winning smaller delegate states like Maine, but polls last nationally in the same Gallup poll. Santorum could continue to hold out until Super Tuesday on March 6, when 10 states hold primaries, three of which are Southern states where the socially conservative Santorum could find some traction.

As of Monday, more than 632,000 absentee and early voting ballots had been cast – 30% of the final vote total – and Romney held a 20-point lead in this category.

"Doing well in Florida is a pretty good indication of your prospects nationally," Romney said Tuesday at his Florida campaign headquarters in Tampa.

Romney took a more aggressive approach since trailing Gingrich in polls early last week. Romney unleashed a barrage of ads to spread his message. Over the past month Romney and his Super PAC “Restore Our Future” have spent a total of $15.3 million in Florida alone. In comparison, John McCain's entire 2008 primary campaign only spent a total of $11 million. In Florida, Gingrich only spent around $3 million in ads.

The full force of Romney shows that the candidate can be formidable and even triumphant when facing significant obstacles. Romney currently polls in a statistical dead heat against President Barack Obama if the election were held today. If Romney is able to overcome a 12-point deficit against Gingrich in only a week’s time, imagine what the candidate can do against Obama.

More so, will the combination of Romney’s and Obama’s Super PACs – each slinging their attack ads – make for one of the ugliest elections in modern history? If Washington, D.C., politics over the last few years is any indication, the wider national election will be as polarized as any.

Florida is only Romney’s second primary victory. Between now and Super Tuesday, Romney will still need to prove that he can win in the South, Midwest, and Southwest. As three out of the four remaining presidential contenders have won primaries or caucuses, Republicans are clearly still divided over who they should put their full backing behind. Though a Florida win will show Romney has significant electability, he still faces hurdles.

We should also still wonder if there is a schism brewing in the Republican Party, especially among libertarians in the GOP. Though Paul is polling at an insignificant amount nationally, the Texan still holds a significant and fervent base of followers. Millennials especially love Paul for his views on foreign policy, government spending, and social progressiveness. Paul has said that he will not run as a third party candidate. But as a libertarian candidate separate from the Republican Party, Paul would undoubtedly make a national splash.

While Gingrich remains the biggest GOP threat to Romney, the libertarian threat Paul still maintains could be even more significant.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Chris Miles

Chris has worked for media outlets including the Associated Press and Stars and Stripes. He worked with the Clinton Foundation, the United Nations, and with the Kentucky state legislature. He holds a master's degree in political science from the University of Louisville, and a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. He is originally from Lexington, Ky. Kentucky basketball occupies a majority of his free time.

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