It wasn't even close: Mitt Romney won a "landslide" victory in Florida's GOP presidential primary on Tuesday. With 74 percent of the precincts reporting, Romney led with almost 47 percent of the vote, well ahead of Newt Gingrich's 32 percent. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul lagged behind with 13 percent and 7 percent, respectively. After getting shellacked by Gingrich in South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary, Romney got tough in Florida, pummeling Newt in two debates and burying his chief rival under a mountain of negative ads (over 12,000, in the last week alone). As the Republican presidential race heads to the Romney-friendly Nevada caucuses on Saturday, what should we make of Mitt's Florida victory?
Mitt got his groove back: "Romney is firmly back in the frontrunner's seat," says Maggie Astor at International Business Times. Yes, only four states have voted. But let's get real: Romney now has several advantages that make it all but impossible for anyone to catch up: "An 'electable' image, strong organization, and almost unlimited money." Florida was "the first test of the candidates' ability to appeal to many demographics at once, and in turn their ability to be competitive on the national stage." With his decisive win in this crucial general-election swing state, Romney just offered "the strongest statement yet that he alone holds the electability card."
"Florida primary 2012 results: What Romney's win means"
But Mitt was wounded in Florida: Despite new momentum, Romney "leaves the Sunshine State with a tarnished image and a furious rival," says Ron Fournier at National Journal. You can bet an embittered Newt will continue to stain Mitt's political brand for weeks, and maybe months, with variations on the message he sent to Floridians: "[Romney's] a liar and a flip-flopper who will say anything to get elected. He's filthy rich. He likes to fire people." No wonder Romney's negative ratings with independents have jumped 20 points since November. This doesn't bode well for Romney's general-election chances.
"A li-Mitted victory for presumptive GOP nominee"
Actually, the attacks in Florida made Mitt stronger: After getting clobbered by Newt in South Carolina, Mitt came "limping into Florida battered and bruised," says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast. But now he's "in a commanding position to win the GOP presidential nomination." How'd he do it? In many ways, "Gingrich forced the cautious and calculating Romney to become a stronger candidate." With his back against the wall, Mitt eviscerated Newt in two debates, figured out how to talk about his taxes "without sounding defensive," and effectively spun Newt "as an erratic and unreliable leader." Mitt will be awfully "hard to beat in a 50-state contest."
"Mitt Romney romps to victory in the Florida primary"