Mitt Romney finally secured a huge win in a major state, winning the Florida Republican primary by an impressive 14 percentage points. His victory speech signaled that he is beginning the all-important pivot to general election politics. As ugly and vicious as this GOP nomination has become, the commentariat has speculated that the negativity will poison the eventual Republican nominee. Romney tried to assure voters that this process “would not divide us, but would prepare us” for the general election. Despite Romney’s large margin of victory, all three of his rivals vowed to soldier on.
Here are three takeaways from the Florida Primary:
Romney’s Win Was Costly
First, although Romney won the Sunshine State handily, it came at a big cost. Romney outspent Newt Gingrich in Florida on television ads by a 5 to 1 margin. The vast majority of his monies were spent on negative advertising. In fact, according to some analyses, this was the most negative campaign ever, with 92% of all ads being negative. Romney was right to try and assure the electorate that the GOP was not self-destructing.
Romney’s Red State Issues
Second, Romney continues to have trouble with the reddest of the red state voters. A review of the exit poll data shows that he won among all groups except among those that “are very conservative,” “strongly support the tea party movement,” “are evangelical Christians,” consider abortion to be “the most important issue,” or believe “abortion should be illegal.”
These categories describe voters in the Deep South, states like South Carolina, where Romney has so far failed to connect with voters. Newt Gingrich won a plurality of the voters in all of those groups and can expect to do well among the southern states on Super Tuesday in March — except, of course, in Virginia, where he and Rick Santorum did not even manage to get on the ballot. The Virginia primary will be a two-man show between Romney and Ron Paul.
This divide in the Republican Party has serious implications for the general election. If Romney goes on to win — which seems likely — he may face an enthusiasm gap among Republicans in the South. Barack Obama won Virginia, North Carolina and Florida in 2008. He cannot afford to lose the entire south this year. A Romney victory may help Obama in that regard, as many southern Republicans may not turn out to vote for a Romney ticket.
The Choice of Latino Voters
Third, Romney did very well among Latino voters, a group the Obama campaign is counting on in the general election. Fourteen percent of the voters in today’s primary were Latino, compared with 22.5% of the Florida population as a whole. Romney won 54% of the Latino vote in today’s primary. Obama ought to be a little bit worried about the solid majority that Romney won among Latino voters in Florida.
While Mitt Romney seemed to be wrapping things up in his speech to supporters tonight, those of us that love a good horse race can look forward to more drama in the coming months. The next five contests are in caucus states, which tend to respond well to the grassroots enthusiasm of Ron Paul. There is not another debate scheduled until Feb. 22, when the candidates will face-off in Arizona. That gives everyone ample time to hone their round-two debate strategies.
All in all, while Romney rests on his solid Florida win, we can be sure that Gingrich, Santorum and Paul are all working hard to make sure that his path to the Republican nomination takes a few more turns.
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
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