After a scorched-earth, super PACified Florida primary campaign in which 92 percent of all campaign commercials were negative, Mitt Romney has emerged the victor over Newt Gingrich. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Romney has a commanding 46.6 percent of the vote. Gingrich is far behind with 31.8 percent, according to TPM. The two remaining candidates, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, have 13.3 and 7 percent, respectively.
"A competitive primary does not divide us, it prepares us, and we will win," Romney told supporters.
Exit polls show that 51 percent of women voted Romney, compared to only 29 percent for Gingrich. Men favored Romney over Gingrich by a 41 to 36 margin. Florida's large Latino community backed Romney with 53 percent of the vote; Gingrich collected 30 percent.
Forty-six percent of persons identifying themselves as strong supporters of the tea party movement voted Gingrich. But 50 percent those who somewhat support the Tea Party chose Romney. The very conservative liked Gingrich to the tune of 43 percent. Rick Santorum collected a chunk of that group, too, with 22 percent. Romney was supported by only 29 percent of those voters.
One of the starkest contrasts in support, not surprisingly, was found in voters' marital status: Only 28 percent of married women voted for Gingrich; Romney picked up 51 percent in that category.
At Gingrich Headquarters in Orlando, Gingrich appeared worn but said he intends to fight on. Supporters held signs that read "46 states to go."
"We're going to have people power defeat money power in the next six months," he said, noting that he's bounced back before.
Only ten days ago, after Gingrich's dominant performance in South Carolina, polls suggested that he would get a bounce in Florida. On January 21, a Rasmussen poll had Gingrich up 41 to 32 percent, while an Insider Advantage poll measured Gingrich at a 34 to 26 percent advantage over Romney.
That support melted away precipitously over the course of the ensuing week and a half.
Gingrich struggled mightily in two Florida debates, the first in Tampa on January 23, and the second in Jacksonville this past Thursday. Gingrich stepped to the podium both times powered by ego but without a strategy. Gingrich blamed the applause prohibition for his poor performance. According to Florida exit polls, two-thirds said that debates were an important factor in their vote.
The large spending advantage allowed Romney to bombard the state with anti-Gingrich ads, with one of the most prolific featuring a reference to a Republican idol. The Times reports:
The second-most broadcast ad over the weekend was one by Restore Our Future, which mocked Mr. Gingrich’s claims that he is the true heir to Ronald Reagan’s political legacy. Titled “Reagan,” the commercial uses video of Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker, mentioning Mr. Reagan repeatedly during the debates. It ends with announcer declaring, “On leadership and character, Gingrich is no Ronald Reagan.”
In his victory speech, Romney looked past Gingrich, with his eyes set on Obama in a general election.
"Like his colleagues in the faculty lounge, Obama thinks he knows better," a confident Romney said. "Together, we will build an American where hope is a new job on a paycheck, not a faded word on a bumper sticker."