Romney Rising

Mitt's Florida victory may be the beginning of an unstoppable winning streak.

Mitt Romney won a big victory in Florida’s primary yesterday, taking the state’s 50 delegates with 46% of the vote. There’s still a long road ahead, as Romney only has 87 of the 1,144 delegates needed to officially win the nomination. In their speeches following the primary results, the candidates indicate that the contest will take a more positive direction.

Romney did not mention any of his opponents by name in his victory speech. The only criticism he made was that the others did not have the experience in creating jobs that he has. His focus was completely on President Obama, sounding as if the general election campaign had already begun. He pledged to “end the Obama era and begin a new era of American prosperity.”

He said that President Obama wants to “fundamentally transform” the country and that he be the one to bring true hope and change. One standout line in Romney’s speech was, “Hope is a new paycheck, not a faded word on an old bumper sticker.” A look at Romney’s financial advantage and the upcoming contests helps explain why Romney sounded so confident and is, once again, talking as if the nomination is his. "If you believe the disappointments of the last few years are a detour, not our destiny, then I am asking for your vote," he said.

The Romney campaign has nearly 10 times the money that Newt Gingrich has with no debt. It is likely that Romney will score 7 victories in a row by the end of February, as political analyst Dick Morris pointed out. The next contest will be on February 4 when Nevada holds its caucus. Romney won the state in 2008 and has led in every poll taken there. Maine begins its week-long caucus that day also and polls show Romney leading. Romney won Maine in 2008. On February 4, the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota take place, both of which Romney won last time.

The only debate of the month will be held on February 22, giving Romney’s opponents an opportunity to stall his momentum. If they don’t, he will win the Michigan and Arizona primaries on February 28. Romney won the former in 2008 and lost the latter to McCain. The last poll in Arizona had Gingrich and Romney tied. Super Tuesday, the date when 10 states hold their caucuses and primaries, arrives on March 6.

Newt Gingrich came in second place in Florida with 32% of the vote, but didn’t win any delegates because it is a winner-takes-all contest. He claimed that the state had “made it clear” that the campaign had narrowed down to two people, with Romney as the “Massachusetts moderate” and him as the “conservative leader.” By making this statement, he was trying to compel supporters of Rick Santorum and Ron Paul to jump to his side. He repeatedly talked about winning by running a “positive” campaign and his relatively tepid criticism of Romney may be the result of a shift in strategy.

Gingrich used his speech to announce that he would be releasing a new contract between himself and his supporters modeled on the 1994 Contract with America. He previously released a 21st Century Contract with America in September. He said that the first part will be “conditional” and would require winning the presidential election and a majority in the House and Senate. The second part will be promises of actions he will take.

He listed several executive orders he would sign, including one that would move the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Gingrich framed his candidacy as one of sweeping change, instead of “managing the decay,” that would confront “the establishment” and both parties.

Rick Santorum came in third place with 13% of the vote. He congratulated Romney on his “resounding victory.” He devoted most of his speech to railing against the nastiness between Romney and Gingrich. He said that the “campaign went downhill” in Florida and that the Republican Party can do better. He defended Romney from Gingrich’s criticism of his time at Bain Capital and defended Gingrich from Romney’s criticism over his ties to Fannie-Mae and Freddie-Mac. He respectively criticized both for supporting the bailouts.

Santorum swiftly rebuffed suggestions from Gingrich that he should drop out so that the non-Romney vote could consolidate. He said that “Newt Gingrich had his opportunity” in Florida and had all the momentum after winning South Carolina. Gingrich lost, Santorum said, because he became the issue. Santorum said that the Republican Party should not have a candidate that will distract from making President Obama the issue.

Santorum made it clear that he will fight on. In interviews after his speech, he pointed to polls in Ohio and Missouri that showed him at or near the top. Ohio votes on March 6 and Missouri votes on March 17.

Ron Paul came in fourth in Florida with only 7% of the vote, but he did not actively campaign there. He wasn’t even in Florida on primary day. He was in Nevada to get a head start on the caucus, where he has two campaign offices. In his concession speech, he said that “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.”

Mitt Romney didn’t even mention Gingrich in his speech and Gingrich limited his attacks on Romney to calling him a “Massachusetts moderate.” Santorum, who won a huge applause in the last debate for demanding that the two end the personal attacks, reiterated his call. It’s too early to tell, but the presidential candidates made be reacting to a desire from Republican voters for a more respectful campaign.

Mitt Romney now leads with 87 delegates and Gingrich follows with 26. Santorum has 14 and Ron Paul is in last place with 4. Santorum makes it known that he won’t quit anytime soon and Gingrich and Paul each vow to fight until the convention. Romney is far ahead of the pack, but this race isn’t over and an upset can’t be counted out in this wild campaign.

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