Surprising no one, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Florida primary, and won it decisively. With just over 50 percent of the precincts reporting, Romney was leading with 47 percent of the vote when the race was called. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had 31 percent of the vote, former Pennsylvania Senate Rick Santorum picked up 13 percent and Rep. Ron Paul pulled in 7 percent.
Despite the fact that Florida primary voters were dominated by conservative voters who support the Tea Party exit polling showed that voters’ top priority was finding a candidate, any candidate, that could beat President Obama. This is a shift from South Carolina where former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich won the majority of voters whose top priority was defeating the President. So it looks like all those millions in negative ads pushed by the Romney campaign worked.
Romney’s real strength continues to be with moderate Republicans. In Florida he won those voters by more than 25 percentage points. The margin of victory was similar among voters who were neutral or opposed to the tea party movement.
The win will no doubt boost the Romney campaign who would really like to see this primary over. But Gingrich has vowed to push ahead.
The campaign now shifts to Nevada and Minnesota, which will hold its caucuses on Saturday. Nevada and Minnesota are states the Paul campaign has focused on, borrowing a strategy from the 2008 Obama campaign and putting the bulk of its resources in states with caucuses where ground organization pays off most.
But Nevada also has a the country’s largest Mormon community outside of Utah and is considered friendly territory for Romney who has spent a good amount of time organizing there.
Photo from Gage Skidmore via flickr.