Mitt Romney’s Tuesday victory in the Florida Republican primary has likely cemented his position as the GOP frontrunner.
Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, won 46 percent of the primary vote, the Florida Division of Elections reported. Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, came in second with 32 percent. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum won 13 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas and Medicine ’61, came in last with 7 percent. Florida—a winner-takes-all contest—gives Romney 50 delegates in the race for the presidential nomination, feeding the momentum needed to reach the 1,144 delegates that would decisively clinch the nomination, some Duke professors and students said.
Romney’s victory in Florida is especially indicative, because as a closed primary—only registered Republicans can vote—it reflects the lead priority of the Republican party: nominating a candidate who can beat President Barack Obama, said Pope McCorkle, visiting lecturer of public policy studies. He called Romney’s win in Florida impressive, considering that independents—a large source of support for Romney—could not vote, leading some experts to favor Gingrich going into the primary.
Electability in the general election has long been Romney’s calling card, said Kyle Scott, visiting assistant professor of political science. According to CNN poll data, Romney led among voters who indicated that their main concern was choosing a candidate who can defeat Obama in the general election.
Junior William Reach, former chair of Duke College Republicans, said he similarly supports Romney because he thinks he has the best chance of usurping Obama.
“Romney has a tremendously strong network of volunteers and has been consistent in his campaign messaging,” Reach said. “He is running on his strengths, he hasn’t gone negative, and he’s run a really solid campaign.”
In his victory speech, Romney ignored his Republican opponents and instead looked forward to the general election against Obama.
“Three years ago this week, a newly elected President Obama faced the American people and said that if he couldn’t turn the economy around in three years, he’d be looking at a one-term proposition,” Romney said. “We’re here to collect.”
Romney largely neglected Gingrich in his remarks in order to assert his dominance in the Republican field, McCorkle said.
“Romney is trying to be presumptuous in a sense because he’s trying to reinforce as much as possible that it is over—that he’s not just in the driver’s seat, but that it is over,” McCorkle said.
In his speech, Gingrich denied that his campaign is faltering, emphasizing his victory in South Carolina. Standing before signs that read “46 states to go,” he noted that there are several battleground states left between now and the Republican National Convention in June.
“It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate,” Gingrich said.
But in the next two primaries—Colorado and Nevada—the odds are not favorable for Gingrich, McCorkle said. Romney, who is a Mormon, is favored to win the Nevada caucus due to its large Mormon population.
Scott said that Nevada and Colorado might, however, prove troublesome for socially conservative Romney. Both states are socially liberal—Nevada boasts a large gambling industry and legal prostitution, and Colorado is filled with medical marijuana outlets. These social policies may sway voters to the libertarian-minded Paul.
Gingrich will face difficulties in Michigan, where Romney’s father George Romney was governor for six years, McCorkle said. Gingrich’s limited fundraising capacity will also give the former speaker problems.
“Unfortunately for Gingrich, they’ve got to gather more money than they possibly can gather,” he said. “That’s more of a problem for Gingrich because, as South Carolina reflected, when he is in a smaller playing field he can more than compete. But in a state like Florida, he simply couldn’t get enough money.”
Some Republican students at Duke said they are glad Romney won and believe the victory has essentially given him the nomination.
“People are starting to realize that it is time to unite as a conservative union,” said junior Chloe Rockow, chair of DCR. “[The Romney campaign] has been preaching this message of positivity… showing that they can reach both the establishment Republican base and moderate, younger conservatives.”
Florida’s racial breakdown also favored Romney. According to CNN, the former governor—whose father was born in Mexico—was bolstered by Hispanics, winning 54 percent of the Latino vote.
In his victory speech, Romney rejected the notion that a long, competitive primary would hurt the Republicans.
“A competitive primary does not divide us—it prepares us,” he said.
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