Florida is the first large state in the GOP nomination contest. More diverse and populous than the states for the previous three contests, it’s seen as a better test for the general election. Tonight, Newt Gingrich became the first Republican candidate to win the South Carolina primary and then lose Florida.
During the last week, the GOP race became a fierce contest between Romney and Gingrich. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul during the last week chose not compete in Florida. Paul knew he would not get any delegates in a winner-take-all state, and Santorum did not have the money or organization to compete.
How did Romney pull it off with 47% of the vote? The answers are a lot simpler than you might think:
1. Early Voting. Florida voters were able to vote early for one solid week, during which nearly half a million votes were cast. Gingrich was surging right as the early voting began, coming off of his win in the South Carolina primary, but his stride was cut short. Romney’s camp spent millions on advertising for weeks, anticipating the early vote.
Two solid debate performances by Romney during that week of early voting helped to knock Gingrich down once again. People finally saw a fighter in Romney, which no doubt led to his surging to a double-digit lead.
In a large state like Florida, just like a general election, organization and money matter. Romney won Florida in part because he bombed Newt Gingrich back into the Stone Age, and showed that he can compete on a larger platform more effectively.
2. It’s The Economy, Stupid. Florida took a worse hit when the recession began, and that hit continues today. Nearly half of all Florida homes are underwater, and the state's unemployment rate is a staggering 9.9%. While Gingrich did help balance the budget and slow down big government, people broke late for Romney.
It came down to Bain vs. Freddie. In a state where 46% of the homes are underwater, Gingrich working for Freddie Mac no doubt left a worse taste in people’s mouth than Romney’s time as the chief executive of Bain Capital. Romney won the people whose top issue was the economy.
3. The Debates. Gingrich lost two debates last week, after his South Carolina victory when the race was his to lose. During those two debates, Romney went on the attack. Making Gingrich look weak and overconfident, Romney grew his lead once again in the Sunshine State. Looking good on television matters just as much now as it did back in 1960.
4. Demographics. The Cuban vote in Florida is one of the largest voting blocs. Traditionally, a large part of the group votes with whomever is leading in the polls on Election Day. That meant a large share for Governor Romney.
Florida’s own Senator Marco Rubio did not endorse anyone during the Florida primary, but at one point he did chastise Newt Gingrich for his calling Mitt Romney anti-immigrant. As an influential member of Florida’s Cuban population, this no doubt turned would-be Gingrich supporters away, straight into Romney’s arms.
Florida also has a substantial elderly population. These voters were wooed by Romney’s family values conservatism and long marriage. With this crowd, it wasn’t even necessary for Romney to even fire a shot at Newt.
Now it’s onto February and Nevada, a contest that Romney won last time around. With every candidate promising to stay in the race, and 95% of the delegates still up for grabs, it could still be anybody’s ball game. The only thing for sure right now, is that momentum is on Romney’s side.
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