Romney Back in the Driver’s Seat After Decisive Florida Victory

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  February 1, 2012 at 9:51 AM EST

Mitt Romney; photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Mitt Romney celebrates his win in the Florida primary. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

With his decisive victory in the Florida primary Tuesday night, Mitt Romney regained command of the Republican nomination battle, rebounding from a disappointing second-place finish in South Carolina 10 days earlier, and now enters February with a full head of steam.

With all of the Sunshine State’s precincts reporting, here is the tally:

  • Mitt Romney: 46 percent (771,842 votes)
  • Newt Gingrich: 32 percent (531,294 votes)
  • Rick Santorum: 13 percent (222,248 votes)
  • Ron Paul: 7 percent (116,776 votes)

Check out the full results here in our map center.

Just how decisive was Romney’s victory Tuesday? He beat Gingrich and Santorum combined by 18,300 votes. That margin helped Romney undercut Gingrich’s pre-election projection that the “conservative” candidates would “out-poll” Romney.

Addressing supporters at a primary night event in Tampa, a triumphant Romney commented on the negative tone of the Florida campaign, which saw millions of dollars poured into blistering television attack ads as well as repeated sharp exchanges between the two main GOP contenders both in debates and on the stump.

“A competitive primary does not divide us, it prepares us. And we will win,” Romney declared. He added that the party will be “united” when it returns to Tampa in August for the convention.

Pivoting to the general election, Romney also took aim at President Obama. “Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses,” Romney 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.”

Gingrich spoke in Orlando and offered no words of congratulation to his rival. Instead, the former House speaker promised an unrelenting campaign.

“We’re going to contest everyplace and we are going to win,” Gingrich told supporters, many of whom held signs that read: “46 states to go.” [It's worth noting that Gingrich [decided to skip Missouri's non-binding primary](http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/political-fix/gingrich-says-skipping-missouri-primary-a-conscious-decision/article_c194b8ea-1f8b-11e1-b377-001a4bcf6878.html) on Feb. 7 and failed to qualify for the ballot in Virginia, which holds its primary in March.]

“It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate,” Gingrich said.

Given the winner-take-all dynamic in Florida, Santorum had moved on to Nevada by Tuesday night, after spending most of the day in Colorado. He disputed Gingrich’s statement that the GOP race was now a two-man contest between himself and the former Massachusetts governor.

“In Florida, Newt Gingrich had his opportunity. He came out of the state of South Carolina. He came out with a big win and a lot of money and he said, ‘I’m going to be the conservative alternative. I’m going to be the anti-Mitt.’ And it didn’t work,” Santorum charged. “He became the issue. We can’t allow our nominee to be the issue in the campaign.”

Santorum also lamented the negativity of the Romney-Gingrich feud. “The American public does not want to see two or three candidates get into a mud-wrestling match where everybody walks away dirty and not in a position to be able to represent our party proudly,” Santorum said. “What we saw in the last few weeks in Florida is not something that’s going to help us win this election.”

After largely avoiding Florida, Texas Rep. Ron Paul also spent his primary night in Nevada, which holds its caucuses Saturday. “We will spend our time in the caucus states, because if you have an irate, tireless minority you do very well in the caucus states.”

“People are beginning to realize that the problem is too much government,” Paul said. “We need liberty.”

While the Florida win puts Romney back in the driver’s seat, he’s still a long way from clinching the 1,144 delegates needed to claim the Republican presidential nomination. [The Washington Post has put together [an incredibly helpful delegate tracker.](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/primary-tracker/)] With many states having switched to proportional allocation, the other contenders can point to the math as a reason to stay in the race.

In another signal of Romney’s strength, he will soon start receiving Secret Service protection, ABC News reported Tuesday night. In addition, the Boston Globe is reporting that Romney’s campaign has been negotiating an endorsement with former candidate and Tea Party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann. Romney is, after all, headed to her home state of Minnesota on Wednesday afternoon.

Miss any of the fun? Watch our election special here. All of the candidate speeches can be found here.

46 STATES TO GO?

Politico’s Jonathan Martin writes about the anxiety among Republicans about the nasty fight between Romney and Gingrich, with several top party members fretting about how it might harm the eventual nominee’s general election chances against President Obama.

And the other guys don’t seem to be going anywhere, but for now, Santorum is keeping his sights on Gingrich.

Santorum told CNN’s Dana Bash on Tuesday night that the more affordable contests ahead in smaller states give his campaign an opportunity to rise. The former Pennsylvania senator said he raised $4.5 million in the month of January alone.

With the gambling mecca of Nevada is next up on the nominating calendar, Santorum is putting playing cards to political use. He released a harsh new ad, taking 60 seconds to tell caucus-goers that Gingrich is just like President Obama and Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Jon Ralston, the dean of Nevada politics, reminds the candidates how to pronounce the state’s name ahead of Saturday’s caucuses:

Just because Steve Wynn can’t say it right…pronounce the name correctly. Please. It is not, as Wynn says, Ne-vah-duh; it’s Ne-vad-a. Practice it in front of the mirror. Put a phonetic pronouncer in the prompter. Or just memorize it. You can be sure we in the media will be listening.

The most recent polling in the Silver State, conducted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Dec. 12, found Romney leading Gingrich, 33 percent to 29 percent, with Paul getting 13 percent and Santorum 3 percent.

Polls of Colorado and Minnesota, which hold caucuses Tuesday, show a split result. An early December poll of Colorado voters from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling showed Gingrich at 37 percent to Romney’s 18 percent. But a PPP Minnesota poll just a few weeks ago found Romney leading Gingrich, 36 percent to 18 percent.

There are no recent polls from Maine, which begins its week-long caucuses Feb. 4 and received a visit from Paul last weekend.

Arizona and Michigan vote in primaries on Feb. 28, and Romney leads polls conducted in both states.

TEAM OBAMA RESPONDS

Deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter wrote a memo Tuesday night arguing that Romney’s victory in Florida “came at a very steep price,” detailing that he spent five times more than Gingrich. Cutter pointed to polling that found Republicans dissatisfied with their candidates and said he has damaged himself among swing voters:

Team Romney wants voters and the national media to believe its victory reflects its candidate’s positions. In reality, it is a product of the fact that Romney and his SuperPAC allies carpet-bombed Gingrich by spending five times as much money on Florida’s airwaves, and running more than 60 television ads for every one Gingrich and his allies aired. Nearly all of the $15.3 million Romney’s campaign and its allies’ spent on advertising in Florida was focused not on their own candidate, but on the rest of a weak field of opponents, contributing to a campaign in which more than nine out of every 10 ads were negative – by far the most negative campaign in Florida’s history.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

The campaigns, Super PACs and outside groups were required to file their fourth-quarter reports with the Federal Election Commission by midnight. Here’s a look at some of the findings.

Ron Paul raised $13 million in the fourth quarter.

The Karl Rove-backed Crossroads group hauled in $51 million.

Priorities USA, the pro-Obama Super PAC, raised just $1.24 million.

Politico’s Ken Vogel crunched the numbers on Gingrich and writes that his report “paints a picture of a campaign that is working to professionalize, but continues to be based in part around the candidate himself and the network of companies and non-profits that he built after leaving Congress.” For example, the Gingrich campaign paid the candidate $47,000 for a list of supporters and paid one of Gingrich’s companies $67,000 for web hosting, Vogel writes.

PayPal co-founders donated to a pro-Paul Super PAC, Reuters reported.

President Obama’s campaign voluntarily released its list of the big donors who bundle multiple donations for the president and called on the other candidates to do the same. See the list here.

Roll Call’s Kate Ackley found three former members of Congress, including one who works at a lobbying and law firm and one who has been plagued by a scandal, were among the bundlers. Ackley writes:

Ex-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a former Senator who has been under fire for the collapse of his brokerage and commodities firm MF Global; former Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), who is not a registered lobbyist but is a member of the public policy and regulation group at Holland & Knight; and ex-Rep. Patrick Kennedy(D-R.I.) are listed as top bundlers for the president. The president returned Corzine’s personal campaign contributions, according to numerous news reports.

We’ll examine the disclosures on Wednesday’s NewsHour. Tune in.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • Matt Strawn resigned as chairman of the Iowa Republican Party Tuesday morning, fallout from the messy counting of caucus votes and the party’s delay in declaring Santorum the new winner.

From NewsHour politics desk assistant Alex Bruns:

According to the Associated Press, it was only after a late night conference call between 17 members of the Iowa Republican Central Committee weeks after the caucuses that Strawn finally made the decision to release an official statement awarding the victory to Santorum. Strawn will leave office Feb. 10, the day before the next committee meeting, which will be charged with selecting a new chairman.

Even though Strawn is leaving his job, he will have little time to rest. The Iowa Barnstormers, an Arena League Football team he co-owns, kicks off its season March 12 against the Spokane Shock.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio dodged the veepstakes question in an interview Tuesday night with Judy Woodruff. “I understand people have to speculate about somebody. Now, when they move on to other states, they will probably speculate about other people,” he said. Watch the full segment here.

  • Bachmann’s campaign was broke when she dropped out, with just $358,724 in cash on hand after the Iowa caucuses. She has more than $1 million in campaign debt, Talking Points Memo reported.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Democrat Suzanne Bonamici decisively won a special House election Tuesday to replace Democrat David Wu, who resigned last year amid a sex scandal involving a young woman.

  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $1.3 million in independent expenditures, mostly on TV ads that painted GOP candidate Rob Cornilles as a Tea Party-affiliated Republican, not the moderate he portrayed himself to be on the campaign trail, Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad reports.

  • Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report notes that Democrats took nothing for granted and “outspent Republicans on television about 4-to-1.” Bonamici spent about a half-a-million dollars on television, the Democratic Congressional Committee almost a million, in addition to spending from a few other Democratic groups, Gonzales writes.

  • Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., will not seek re-election, reports the Indianapolis Star’s Mary Beth Schneider. The 73-year-old Republican lawmaker has served 15 terms.

  • Democrats think they can win back the House in November.

  • First lady Michelle Obama yukked it up with Jay Leno on Tuesday night, commenting on Romney’s singing skills and pushing healthy eating.

  • The Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed a redistricting lawsuit to proceed, prompting Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to ask that the state delay its congressional primaries by two months, the Washington Post’s Ben Pershing reports.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Rick Santorum makes four Colorado campaign stops, addressing the Arapahoe Republican Men’s Club breakfast in Denver at 10 a.m., holding a press conference in Lakewood at 12 p.m., delivering remarks on health care in Woodland Park at 3 p.m. and attending a rally in Colorado Springs at 9 p.m.

  • Ron Paul campaigns in Las Vegas, with events set for for 12 p.m. and 5 p.m., and press availabilities scheduled to follow both.

  • Mitt Romney holds a rally in Eagan, Minn., at 2:05 p.m. and another rally in Las Vegas at 9:30 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich holds a campaign rally in Reno, Nev., at 4 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


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Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @quinnbowman.