All eyes were on Florida Tuesday night as Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich squared off to see who would emerge victorious in the rough and tumble GOP presidential race. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul were not even in the state, having conceded Florida and moved on to Nevada. In the end, Romney won Florida convincingly, but according to Newt Gingrich, the race is far from over.
The 2012 race for the GOP nomination is clearly one of the most bizarre. In the three contests leading up to Florida (Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina), there were three different winners. Santorum pulled off a tremendous victory in Iowa, yet came away with no momentum. Gingrich won South Carolina by attracting the evangelical vote that seemed better suited for Santorum, yet he faded in Florida. It appears that winning a primary is the kiss of death in this race, since no candidate has yet won two in a row.
Here’s what Romney had to say during his victory speech:
Newt Gingrich vowed to keeping fighting, saying that four states were down and there are forty-six more to go:
How did this election play out with the voters? How was Romney able to turn things around after Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina? According to the exit polls, Romney won big in several critical areas. Among white voters, Romney beat Gingrich 45% to 32%, but among Hispanic voters, that winning margin jumped to 54% to 29%. Romney edged out Gingrich 41% to 36% among men, but trounced him among women by 52% to 28%.
Romney was strong among all ages groups, but the younger the voter was, the better Romney fared. As far as education is concerned, the closest Gingrich was to Romney was ten percentage points 37% to 47%, and that was among voters with a high school education or less. Among college graduates, Romney won by twenty percentage points, 48% to 28%.
Regarding politics, voters were asked if they considered themselves very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, or very conservative. Romney won all categories except for those identifying themselves as very conservative. Gingrich won those voters (about a third of the total voters) by 41% to 30%.
Strong supporters of the Tea Party movement went for Gingrich by 45% to 33%. Those who were somewhat supportive of the movement or who were neutral went for Romney.
In a definite turn from South Carolina, Romney was able to split the White evangelical/born-again Christian vote with Gingrich. Gingrich edged Romney out by 38% to 36%. Romney won all other religious categories by 54% to 27%.
Voters are convinced that Romney is the candidate that can beat Barack Obama. Forty-five percent of voters listed “beating Barack Obama” as the top quality they look for in a candidate. Those voters went for Romney by 58% to 33%.
The campaigns of both Romney and Gingrich took a decidedly more aggressive tone for the Florida election. Both turned their focus from Obama to each other. Now what happens? Will Gingrich (or Santorum or Paul) be able to regroup going forward? Is the nomination now Romney’s? Forty-six states remain, but the first four have definitely been memorable.