Mitt Romney’s lopsided Florida victory over Newt Gingrich proved the Republican front-runner can win conservatives, triumph in debates and fight a bruising campaign that can lay an opponent to waste.
Romney’s Florida win also showed Republicans he can run the kind of national campaign that can defeat President Obama in November.
"Doing well in Florida,” Romney said Tuesday, “is a pretty good indication of your prospects nationally."
That’s because Florida is more like the nation than any of the other three early states.
North Florida is the Deep South. Southwest Florida is like the Midwest. Latin America meets New York in Southeast Florida. And it all mixes together along the I-4 corridor from Tampa Bay through Central Florida.
Romney walloped Gingrich in South Florida and among Hispanics statewide, exit polls showed. He won the state’s crucial senior vote, and carried women voters by a big margin. Romney also fought Gingrich to a statistical tie with conservative, evangelical and tea party voters.
Early results indicated he tied Gingrich in North Florida, but was handily winning everywhere else.
“Florida is the nation’s reflecting pool,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican consultant who worked for Romney in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004. “It is what New York and Ellis Island used to be, the gateway to the country’s future.”
Before the first ballot was even cast on Election Day, Romney had a cushion of early votes that could have exceeded 60,000. While the other campaigns were silent in early January, Romney advertised on radio and television and aggressively called and mailed early voters, who cast more than 632,000 ballots.
With the big results in from Florida, Castellanos said, the Republican race is almost history, though Gingrich has vowed to fight all the way to the national convention in Tampa this summer.
“This race won’t end tonight, but it will be over,” Castellanos said. “Romney will have done something no other non-incumbent Republican candidate has ever done: He really only lost 1 of the first 4 contests. That’s remarkable.”
Ron Paul's campaign is demanding an apology for a what looks like an assault, according to a report filed by Yahoo! News concerning a physical attack on Ron Paul supporter Eddie Dillard in Windermere:
Dillard, a 29-year-old Ron Paul supporter from this suburb near Orlando, arrived to vote at his precinct at Winderemere Baptist Church early Tuesday morning. Pulling into the parking lot, Dillard noticed a man outside the polling place with a Gingrich sign. He decided to run home, slip into his "Ron Paul Rocks America" T-shirt, grab a "Ron Paul 2012" sign from his garage, and return to give his candidate some representation outside the precinct after he cast his vote....
One of Gingrich's security agents stepped in front of him. When Dillard didn't budge, the agent lifted his heeled shoe over Dillard's bare foot and dug the back of it into his skin, twisting it side-to-side like he was stomping out a cigarette. Shocked, Dillard kept his ground and took a picture of the agent with his phone, which was quickly knocked out of his hand. Dillard slipped off his flip-flop to pick up the phone with his foot, and a Gingrich supporter kicked the sandal away.
"Don't kick me!" Dillard said to the man who knocked away his sandal. More members of Gingrich's security retinue approached, shoving their shoulders and chests in front of him.
"Just block him!" a Gingrich campaign aide said. "Everyone step on his toes!"
This can only help Democrats, to the degree it's effective at all. No one's really sure how many Jewish voters there are, and it's a given that there are 1) few of them and 2) even fewer Republican Jews. And of those who will vote, it's a good bet to think this won't sway them too much.
Anyway, here's the alleged robo-call, according to the Huffington Post:**
As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney vetoed a bill paying for kosher food for our seniors in nursing homes. Holocaust survivors, who for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher. Where is Mitt Romney's compassion for our seniors? Tuesday you can end Mitt Romney's hypocrisy on religious freedom, with a vote for Newt Gingrich. Paid for by Newt 2012.
Asked in Celebration today if he approved this, Gingrich wouldn't answer a reporter.
This was his last scheduled stop before awaiting returns in Orlando. He visited with a small crowd of residents on the manicured lawn outside the picture-perfect Heritage Hall. Ron Paul signs seemed to outnumber Gingrich signs, though a few were sporting Gingrich stickers.
He told one woman, "I need your help."
Spokesman RC Hammond told reporters that Gingrich intends to keep competing, across the board.
"The medias' picked front runner hasn't broken 50 percent yet," he said. "That leaves a lot of math out there for the conservative side of the party to pick up, which is how we'll stay competitive in the nomination. Which is why it will last late into the spring. because we will continue to bring in delegates, we will continue to bring in large amounts of support. As long as the tea party supporters keep coming our way, we're going to be able to do very well."
He also said of the campaign's FEC report -- says $5 million was raised from $250 contributors -- "We are a campaign of small donor donations," he said.
**incidentally, "kishkes" is yiddish and translates as guts.
Election Day has arrived in South Florida, and Republican voters are headed to the polls with two issues weighing heavily on their minds: the economy, and who has the greatest chance to defeat Barack Obama in the November presidential elections.
Candidates Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are on the Republican primary ballot, though the election in Florida is expected to be a two-man race between Romney and Gingrich, with Romney ahead due to a weeks-long push for absentee and early votes.
Before the first Election Day ballot was cast, Mitt Romney already had a likely lead, perhaps 60,000 or higher thanks to early voting, as we discussed in this story here.
Still, people are still heading to the polls in Miami.
At the Belen Jesuit campus in West Miami-Dade, a Republican stronghold with about three times more registered Republicans than Democrats, Roger Cardenas, 41, voted for Romney.
“I don’t know if he can do everything he says he’ll do but he’s the only guy who can run against Obama,” said Cardenas, an electrician who came to South Florida from Cuba.
Rene Viera, a 64-year-old Westchester Realtor, said he voted for Gingrich because of the economy.
“The economy will be the hot topic,” he said. “The second issue will be, where is this country headed? The Obama administration wants to take us down the path to socialism and I think people will want off that bus.”
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/31/2616747/election-day-is-here-may-head.html#storylink=cpy
In a final bid to court Hispanic voters, the Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney campaigns dominated the Spanish-language talk show airwaves Tuesday morning during drive time. Their messages were similar: Vote for the candidate most likely to beat President Barack Obama.
Some of the ads were attacks -- Romney mocking Gingrich for the ties to former President Ronald Reagan that Gingrich plays up, a super PAC backing Gingrich saying Romney is not really pro-life. But some of the ads were positive, too. For a taste, click after the jump.
Whether it’s 5, 7, 11 or 14 percentage points, all the major polls agree: Newt Gingrich should lose Election Day in Florida.
But Florida doesn’t have just one Election Day. It has a month’s worth of them because voters can cast absentee ballots by mail or go to special early-voting precincts for a 10-day stretch that ended Saturday.
At least 632,000 Republicans have already cast ballots.
So Gingrich could be losing by as many as 60,000 votes before the polls even open Tuesday, according to an analysis of early-voter surveys and the averages of all the major statewide polls applied to the pool of already cast ballots.
“I think Gingrich could be losing more to Mitt Romney — like 75,000ish,” said Randy Nielsen, a top Florida political consultant for the Republican Party of Florida who’s not affiliated with any presidential candidate.
“This election isn’t going to be pretty for Newt Gingrich,” Nielsen said. “He didn’t have a program to get early and absentee votes, and Gingrich is losing to Mitt Romney in every region except for North Florida. But he’s not winning there enough to make up the difference.”
The actual number of early ballots won by the candidates won't become known until after Election Day.
And Gingrich could be doing much better if his campaign somehow managed to get voters to flock to early-voting precincts and cast absentee ballots in numbers that well exceed the average estimates of nearly 30 scientific surveys that have a 4 percent error margin. Factor that in, and Gingrich could trail Romney by about 42,000 votes.
When absentee-ballot voting began at the beginning of the year, only Romney aggressively courted early voters. For more than a month, his campaign has called and mailed voters and reached them on Spanish- and English-language television and radio.
Gingrich was late in contacting voters, advertising in Florida and campaigning here, relative to Romney.
Still, the advertising has been so heavy on Miami’s Spanish-language airwaves that a WQBA-AM (1140) host apologized to readers that some shows had been cut short to accommodate all the political spots. Up to 2 million Republicans could vote in this election.
Sure, there have been loads of polls today. This one, a robo-poll of 831 Republicans, carries a little more weight because it's conducted by Randy Nielsen of Public Concepts in West Palm Beach and Pat Bainter of Data Targeting in Gainesville.
Between the two of them, they're probably responsible for helping elect or advise nearly every major Republican in the Legislature. Both are Republican Party of Florida consultants. The results:
Mitt Romney: 40%
Newt Gingrich: 30%
Rick Santorum: 16%
Ron Paul: 8%
Nielsen said an intriguing aspect of the poll are the regional breakdowns. Note the North Florida numbers, which help show why Romney spent a little more time there recently.
North/Panhandle: Gingrich (35), Romney (27)
Orlando/Space Coast: Gingrich (30), Romney (44)
South: Gingrich (28), Romney (44)
Tampa Bay: Gingrich (31), Romney (38)
For those who care, South Florida is outside the error margin for the regional subsample.
Newt Gingrich -– who is traveling around Florida by plane and was preceded on the stage by Michael Reagan and Herman Cain -- addressed a small but enthusiastic crowd at an airplane hangar at Tampa Jet Center. His campaign had curtained off two-thirds of the hangar, but the crowd didn't fill the remaining third.
He took the stage nearly two hours late, but offered no explanation-– ripping quickly into rival Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.
Gingrich called Tuesday a "really, really big day" said a late poll has him tied with Romney at 35-35 -– but didn't name the poll. (Here's the poll, according to his campaign, from the Fort Myers News-Press.) He said he's still fighting after reports of his campaign's demise last summer and a well-financed, well-organized Romney assault. He said Romney has "spent $17.5 million on falsehoods.”
He closed with an appeal for help.
"We really need your help: We need you on Facebook, we need you Twittering, if that's what you do, we need you on e-mail," he said. "We need you calling people, and, to show I'm old-fashioned, we need you talking face to face..."
Gingrich said he's carrying the conservative banner.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich won a straw poll of Florida Tea Party Patriots members held on a conference call Sunday evening, with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum a close second....At the end of the call, participants were asked who they would vote for if the election were held today. Thirty-five percent said they would vote for Gingrich, 31 percent for Santorum, 18 percent for Romney, and 11 percent for Paul. Five percent selected none of the above.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, kept up his aggressive rhetorical attack against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich Monday, the last full day of campaigning before Florida’s Republican presidential primary.
Speaking at a morning rally at a Jacksonville forklift supply company, Romney jumped straight into attacking Gingrich.
“Speaker Gingrich wasn’t very happy with the debates,” Romney said. “He said in the first debate he didn’t do well because the crowd was too quiet. He said he didn’t do well because the crowd was too loud.”
Romney continued: “I think the real reason he hasn’t done so well in connecting with the people of Florida is the people actually saw him in those debates, listened to his background and experience and they learned, for instance, that he was paid $1.6 million to be a lobbyist for Freddie Mac and they said ‘That’s not what we want in the White House.’”
Romney told the crowd that Gingrich received money from Freddie Mac at the time the housing foreclosure crisis was in full swing.
“The idea that someone running for president at the time that was going on…that’s the real reason why Speaker Gingrich has had such a hard time,” Romney said. “If (people) want to see change Washington, you can’t just select the same people to take different chairs.”
Romney mocked a campaign promise Gingrich made on Florida’s Space Coast that, as president, he would return to manned space flight and establish a permanent U.S. colony on the moon.
“The idea of the moon as the 51st state is not what would come to my mind as a campaign basis for here in Florida,” Romney said.
As Romney spoke, Rick Tyler, a former Gingrich aide and top adviser of the pro-Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future stood in the audience inside the massive garage where the event was held and listened. Tyler said he intended to bird-dog Romney’s campaign stops.
After the first event, Tyler told a scrum of reporters that Romney was “a liar.”
“He said Newt Gingrich resigned in disgrace (from Congress), there’s no evidence of it. Newt Gingrich resigned honorably,” Tyler said. “Romney has said Newt Gingrich was fined $300,000 - $100,000 ethics. That’s not true. (Conservative columnist) Byron York did a good piece the other day that explained the whole story. It’s a long story but I encourage people to look at the truth and not believe the lie.”
Tyler’s Winning Our Future bankrolled the 28-minute anti-Romney documentary “King of Bain” which media and non-partisan fact-checking groups along with some conservative organizations and Republicans say contained several inaccuracies and overstatements about Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital.
- McClatchy Washington Bureau Reporter William Douglas