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Dissecting Romney’s Win in Florida

With a dominating win in Florida, the Romney campaign moves forward with a nice push of momentum into February. And now, well, who knows?

The one certainty of the 2012 presidential campaign thus far is its uncertainty. It wasn’t long ago when we were talking about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s dominating win in South Carolina and, before that, the possibility that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, could be looking at a January sweep.

But few things seem clear out of the Florida results. Romney has again reestablished himself as the front-runner, for now. And, maybe more important, he has reestablished himself as the candidate of the wealthier swing-voting communities — counties that Patchwork Nation calls the Monied Burbs. Romney won six of Florida’s seven Monied Burbs and 49 percent of the vote in them overall. (You can see the results analyzed through Patchwork Nation’s 12 county types here.)

As we have noted in the past, those places are critical for him because in many ways they represent the rationale for his candidacy. They show he can take on President Obama in the places that will matter in the general election.

Romney also cleaned up with Florida’s Aging communities — Patchwork Nation’s Emptying Nest counties. He won all 10 of them and 49 percent of their vote. That may have come as a surprise to Gingrich who speaks often of the “greatest generation” in his stump speech. Still even in all the good news for Romney out of Florida, and there was a lot of it, there were a few red flags showing continuing problems for him.

The Lower Income Vote

Much has been made of the north-south divide in the Florida vote, with Romney doing better in the southern part of the state and Gingrich doing better in the north. That stands to reason.

Look at the breakdown of Florida’s counties and you will notice the north holds many more socially conservative Evangelical Epicenter counties — it also holds more the state’s Minority Central counties, which have large African American populations, and small town Service Worker Centers. Gingrich won all three of those county types. (They are in yellow, orange and red, respectively, on the map below.)

The Epicenters and Minority Central counties both tend to be more socially conservative — especially the Republican vote coming out of them. The Service Worker Centers are more moderate in their politics usually, but they share one common trait with the other two: They tend to be below average in their median household income.

Look at the map below of the distribution of median household income in Florida. In it you can see a pretty good match for how the vote went Tuesday night.

The Latino Vote

Note the small donut hole at the bottom of the state. Gingrich won five of those six counties — De Soto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry and Okeechobee. Those are Evangelical Epicenters and Latino-heavy Immigration Nation counties. And the Gingrich win in them is particularly interesting.

Romney won the Florida’s Immigration Nation vote overall by a wide margin, he captured some 60 percent of their vote. But ultimately that was because of his huge win in Miami-Dade. Gingrich actually won the other Immigration Nation counties. And in many of the states ahead the Immigration Nation vote is probably going to look less like Miami-Dade and more like those smaller counties — less wealthy and less densely populated.

That makes one wonder about Romney’s future with that vote. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was reportedly unhappy with the tone of the Republican campaign, which was one reason he did not endorse Romney.

Some of Romney’s questions out of Florida are about securing the nomination — his continuing problem with social conservatives for instance. But the issues with Latinos and income go further.

Ultimately, one assumes, social conservatives will vote for the Republican nominee in the fall. But Latinos and what pollsters like to call “white working class voters” — many of which are represented in Patchwork Nation’s Service Worker Center counties — are not so locked down.

Those Immigration Nation counties will play a big role in swing states like Colorado and New Mexico. And the Service Worker Centers are big parts of the Great Lakes swing states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. They will be critical.

In other words, Romney deservedly can celebrate his win in Florida. But he has much work to do for the fall.

Photo of Mitt Romney signing a supporter’s sign by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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