Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won a major victory Tuesday in Florida’s Republican presidential primary and in the process moved closer to securing his party’s presidential nomination.
Mitt Romney cruised to victory in the Florida primary over three Republican rivals, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
Romney told supporters at a victory rally in Tampa that he was ready to take on President Barack Obama in the November election.
“We still believe in the America that is the land of opportunity and a beacon of freedom. We believe in the America that challenges each of us to be bigger and better than ourselves. This election, let’s fight for the America we love. We believe in America. Thank you so much! Florida, you are the best,” he said.
Romney’s main competition in Florida was Newt Gingrich, who came into the Florida race on the heels of an impressive victory over Romney in South Carolina.
But Gingrich suffered through two sub-par debate performances in Florida and faced a withering barrage of television attack ads financed by the Romney campaign.
Despite the loss, Gingrich vowed to stay in the presidential race until the party’s nominating convention in Tampa, Florida, in August.
“We are going to contest every place and we are going to win and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August,” he said.
Rick Santorum and Ron Paul finished well behind Romney and Gingrich. They did not campaign intensively in Florida and are focused on some of the upcoming primaries in smaller states like Nevada and Maine.
Interviews with voters in Winter Park, Florida, indicate that many Florida Republicans favored Romney because they saw him as the strongest general election candidate against President Obama.
Cathryn Grammer voted for Romney.
“Frankly I think this is the most important election since 1860 and I really feel like we are going in the wrong direction,” she said.
Dennis Graham also voted for Romney.
“I like the guy. I think he is more electable, a word they keep throwing back and forth all the time at each other. I think Gingrich has muddied the water enough and I’m not too sure about him,” he said.
But Gingrich supporters also turned out in force in Winter Park including John Malatesta. He had a different view on the issue of electability.
“I think he is the only one strong enough to beat Obama. Yes, I don’t think Mitt has got what it takes. I think Newt does and I know there are a lot of negative things going on about him but he is the man I think who can do it,” he said.
Romney’s victory in Florida is a major boost to his hopes for the Republican nomination, says Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown.
“It is a big deal because all the delegates from the state all go to Romney, and that is important. But most importantly, it makes it hard to come up with a scenario for the other candidates to win,” he said.
Gingrich has vowed to fight on, but analysts say he will face questions about fundraising in the weeks ahead and whether he can make yet another political comeback in what has been at times a chaotic Republican race.