Romney wins big in Florida

He hammered Obama in his victory speech, ignoring Gingrich.

In his victory speech, which he gave about 30 minutes after the polls closed in the Panhandle, Romney referenced Gingrich and the other candidates just once, before pivoting toward showing the differences between himself and President Obama.

As he has done throughout the campaign, he said he would "insist on a military so powerful, nobody will think about challenging it," and again accused Obama of adopting a strategy of "apologies and appeasement."

He received one of his biggest cheers of the night when he quoted Thomas Paine saying that one must "lead, follow, or get out of the way." Pausing, he said, "Mr. President. You were elected to lead — you chose to follow, and now it's time for you to get out of the way!"

Romney has never been the favorite of the Tea Party, but the inability of that part of the GOP to rally behind a candidate has freed him to maintain his status as the front-runner. In one of the official exit polls, the Romney and Gingrich split that vote.

During the 10-day battle in Florida, the ugly campaign drove up the negatives of both Romney and Gingrich. But while some Republicans fear a continued divisive primary race will hurt their chances against Obama, just as many Republicans feel it will only make them stronger, and Romney is one of those who believes that.

"A competitive primary does not divide us," he said. "It prepares us, and we will win."

Tampa GOP media consultant Adam Goodman agrees. Speaking to CL after the speech, he said that Romney is now "much stronger than at any point in the campaign."

Speaking to the volatility of the GOP electorate, Goodman thought that if Gingrich had outperformed Romney at the two high-profile debates instead of vice versa, the election results in Florida could very well have been different.

Included in the audience at the Tampa Convention Center were supporters from all over the country. Glen Stears held a fund-raiser for Romney last year in Orange County, California. He was pleased that Romney got his hands dirty in the primary. "When you start losing points when other people start throwing arrows, you gotta show the country you can stand up for yourself."

In his concession speech in front of a sparse but enthusiastic crowd in Orlando, Newt Gingrich said the results in Florida had made the race into a two-man contest.

On Saturday, Nevada holds its caucus. Romney is expected to win in that state, which has a heavy population of fellow Mormons. Gingrich is already lowering expectations there.

Since the GOP presidential campaign began last year, Mitt Romney has always been considered the front-runner to take the nomination, and though there have been some bumps and bruises along the way, he was never seriously challenged — until Newt Gingrich stunned him in South Carolina 10 days ago.

That's when Team Romney decided that their candidate had to drop the Mr. Nice Guy act, and after savaging Gingrich daily on the campaign trail in the last week, and more importantly, outspending him by a nearly 5-1 margin in television and radio ads (nearly all negative), the GOP world righted itself on Tuesday night, with Romney trouncing Gingrich by a 46-32 percent margin. Rick Santorum received 13 percent of the vote, and Ron Paul took 7 percent.

Noting that huge discrepancy in terms of negative ads, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a press release that "Tonight, Romney was successful in buying his way to victory — but with every passing Republican contest, he becomes weaker with key general election swing and independent voters should he make it that far."

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