While former Governor Mitt Romney sailed to victory in the Florida Primary with a comfortable 46% of the vote, he has a long way to go to secure the nomination. This has the “establishment” up in arms, as they are woefully too eager to close out this process, disenfranchise the people, and force their concept of electability on America.
A breakdown of the numbers shows great promise for Romney going forward. Certainly, the top line is enough for many; Romney beat Newt Gingrich (32%) by 14 points and nearly tripled former Senator Rick Santorum’s 13% showing. Digging deeper, Romney crushed with those who make over $200,000 per year, those who make $100,000 to $200,000 and even scored with those who make under $50,000.
Romney turned around his fortunes with women, who he took in Florida by 22%. He also won the men by 5% over Gingrich. These are the kinds of numbers that bode well for a front runner, that put an election out of reach and allow the term “electability” to rise up without being ad hominem nonsense.
However, Romney the “electable,” at least in Florida, is not the same as Romney the inevitable. No matter how loudly the establishment will claim that Romney’s win in Florida means that he is the nominee, that hasn’t been established at all.
Romney’s victory in Florida was three fold – Gingrich’s poor debate performance in Jacksonville, overwhelming financial force and a flood of negative ads. On TV alone, Romney spent $15.4 million to Gingrich’s $3.4 million. Put another way, Romney had 65 TV ads for every one ad by Gingrich. Over all, Romney outspent Gingrich 15 to 1. As long as Romney is going up against a less financially infused candidate, all is well. But voters know that President Obama will raise a lot of cash, even if it is less than the purported $1 billion war chest. That also doesn’t include the free media Obama will get from mainstream media outlets.
Negative ads ruled Florida. 93% of all ads in Florida were negative ads. For Romney, it was important to come out on the offensive, to be able to show that he can attack and stand his ground. But the ads can have a boomerang effect. Negative ads leave a negative taste in the mouths of voters, and that might get felt in Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Michigan and beyond. For Romney, however, they worked…and worked well. Florida is a testament to the power of a well-constructed negative ad.
Yet, they only worked in the south of the state, which is, in actuality, the Northeast. In the panhandle to the North, where the actual “southerners” live, Newt Gingrich was the clear winner. With the population centered in the south, Romney’s calculation was correct. But the map makes one wonder how well a negative campaign will play in the rest of the nation.
Gingrich damaged his brand with his poor debate performance in Jacksonville. He seemed lost, without energy and simply dull. It was more than just his fiery jousting with Juan Williams and John King that handed him South Carolina, it was that he was right in both places. He took the absurdity, and the audacity, of the questions and turned them on their head – giving America a “Finally!” moment, where voters were able to see a candidate react to nonsense questions the way they would. Gingrich did not make use of these opportunities in Jacksonville. He let them sail by, and he let Romney seem more aggressive, and more presidential.
Gingrich also failed on many levels of campaigning. His ads, certainly negative, were also called into question for their validity. Most recently, his robo-call that as Governor of Massachusetts Romney cut off Kosher meals to nursing home residents who were Holocaust survivors. It was not only in bad taste, it was also not true. Romney was changing where the meals were made to reduce costs, not eliminating the meals all together.
However, no number is more important than the turnout statistics. Primary turn out in 2012 was less than that of 2008. Further 57% of Republicans are looking for a different choice. William Kristol of The Weekly Standard is already asking if we all shouldn’t be looking at Santorum as the answer. A look at the vote totals shows more people voted against Mitt Romney than voted for Mitt Romney. Romney votes – 775,015, Gingrich/Santorum/Paul votes – 873,011. But, as Ed Morrissey noted:
Even if one of them dropped out, though, that wouldn’t mean that the entire non-Romney vote would coalesce behind the survivor…PPP’s (Public Policy Polling) final Florida poll showed that Romney came in second in the second-choice category at 18%, with Rick Santorum in first at 26% and Gingrich slightly behind Romney at 17%, and 31% saying “someone else/not sure.” It also assumes Paul’s voters would flock to either Gingrich or Santorum, which seems laughably speculative at best. If Santorum had dropped out, Gingrich wouldn’t have won Florida, and the reverse is even more true
No, Romney would have won Florida either way. But his future depends on continued negative ads (which may not play in the rest of the nation) and massive amounts of money to push those ads. Romney took in $24 million in the last quarter. Obama raised $42 million last quarter. And, for all of Romney’s spending, he has only a 48 delegate lead over Gingrich. The race continues. The establishment waits.