Mitt Romney: Back in the lead. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, http://flic.kr/p/aqnGZ7
Mitt Romney has regained his frontrunner status in the race for the Republican presidential nomination with a landslide win in the Florida primary. Former Massachusetts governor Romney took 46.4 percent of the vote, leaving closest rival Newt Gingrich in second place with 31.9 percent. Social conservative Rick Santorum came in third, having left Florida ahead of the primary due to his daughter’s ill health; Texas congressman Ron Paul took fourth place after deciding against campaigning in the Sunshine State.
Romney endured a difficult few weeks ahead of the Florida primary, with intense scrutiny of his recently released tax returns and a Gingrich surge that saw the former House Speaker take South Carolina. But Romney returned with a raft of attack ads aimed at Gingrich and two feisty debate performances. The Florida result has caused some commentators to declare an overall Romney victory inevitable.
However, in a GOP race famed for its unpredictability, is it too early to write off the remaining candidates? As Gingrich pointed out in his concession speech, there are still 46 states to go.
An ugly victory for Romney. “Mitt Romney spend $15 million on ads [in Florida], of which only one was positive. And it was in Spanish,” wrote Tim Stanley on a Telegraph blog, pointing out that 72 percent of Florida voters admitted they were affected by campaign advertising. Having endured a battery of negative ads from the Romney camp, Stanley said, it was unsurprising that Gingrich neglected to congratulate his rival after the results were announced. Stanley suggested that an analysis of the demographics of the Florida voters show that Romney’s victory was not quite as impressive as may be expected: “There were cleavages within the vote that suggests Romney still has a problem with his party’s base… Romney’s landslide was really built on urban and suburban votes.”
Social conservative candidate Rick Santorum criticised the negative campaigning in the GOP Florida primary: “What we saw in the last few weeks and in the state of Florida is not something that’s going to help us and win this election.” However, Jonathan Martin pointed out at Politico that Santorum couldn’t actually afford to run attack ads in Florida.
Florida damaged Gingrich and Romney. “Mr. Gingrich leaves the state a greatly diminished candidate, revealed as a man who would say virtually anything, no matter how absurd, to gain a slight advantage among groups of voters,” wrote David Firestone on a New York Times blog. However, Firestone said, Romney’s victory in Florida came at a cost, partly because his negative campaigning frustrated voters and partly because “his claim that he would get millions of illegal immigrants to ‘self-deport’ may have cost him the endorsement of Jeb Bush, as well as the backing of many other moderate Republicans and independents”.
Florida ‘win’ reveals Romney weakness. The main point to note about the Florida primary result is that even though Romney spent at “historic levels” in the state, the former Massachusetts governor still didn’t break the 50 percent barrier, wrote John Nichols at The Nation: “In Florida, after record spending, Romney still was rejected by 53 percent of Republican primary voters.” According to Nichols, the result doesn’t bode well for Romney in the long term: “Romney is likely to be the Republican candidate against Barack Obama. But, despite a Florida ‘win,’ he still cannot present himself as the candidate who a majority of Republicans are willing to accept (however grudgingly) as their nominee.”
“If enthusiasm wins elections we’d win hands down! Something big is happening in this country and it is all very favourable, there’s a mess up in Washington,” said Texas congressman Ron Paul after the Florida primary in which he took fourth place, reported The Telegraph.
‘Inevitability restored’. “Romney now rolls on with bragging rights: He dominated the biggest contest to date in a state that is representative of the Republican coalition and that is the largest contested prize in the general election,” wrote John Dickerson at Slate, describing the result as “inevitability restored”. Dickerson said that Gingrich will now be under pressure to drop out of the race in order to avoid “dragging out the primary fight”, particularly given that Democrat incumbent President Barack Obama has a relatively low approval rating in 12 swing states and is looking vulnerable.
It seems Newt Gingrich can’t catch a break at the moment: the former House Speaker is being sued by band Survivor for using ‘Eye of the Tiger’ as his entrance music at rallies, reported The Washington Post.
Gingrich is finished. “This is basically over now,” said Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast, arguing that although Gingrich may cling on for a while, the former House Speaker will not clinch the GOP nomination. “Can Gingrich win some significant and unexpected states and mount anything resembling that argument? I have trouble seeing it,” wrote Tomasky. According to Tomasky, the Florida primary result shows that expensive attack ads make a difference to voters and that “insurgent/Tea Party-type voters” are still outnumbered by establishment Republican voters.