Former governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) was declared the winner of the Florida primary shortly after the voting polls in the Central time zone closed on Tuesday night, after retaking the lead in opinion polls and surviving two bruising debates in the state. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) came in a somewhat distant second after winning the South Carolina on the strength of his anti-Bain documentary and a series of negative attacks, followed by former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), respectively.
Gingrich, who vowed to stay in the race until the Republican National Convention in August, doubled down on his attacks on Romney’s business record after South Carolina despite calls from fiscal conservatives to halt, and report from the Campaign Media Analysis Group said that 92 percent of the advertisements that ran in Florida were deemed negative. The end result: almost equal numbers of Republican voters surveyed by CBS News felt Romney’s or Gingrich’s campaigns were “unfair” and 39 percent of Republicans voting in Florida declared themselves unsatisfied with the candidates on the ballot.
Romney took the stage first at his victor party, introduced yet again by his wife, Ann, and told the crowd that, despite Gingrich’s desire to stay in the race, “when we gather back here in Tampa 7 months from now, ours will be a united party with a winning ticket for America.” He added, “A competitive primary does not divide us, it prepares us,” a reference to the particularly ugly battle that had played out in Florida between his campaign and Gingrich’s.
As usual, Romney then turned his rhetoric on the incumbent President Obama, talking about the number of lost jobs and foreclosures that occurred under his administration. “Leadership,” he said, “is about taking responsibility, not making excuses,” a reference to Obama’s oft-stated refrain that he inherited the bad economy. “My leadership will end the Obama era and begin a new era of prosperity,” he told supporters, after highlighting his record as the head of the Utah Olympics and cutting taxes in Massachusetts.
“Like his colleagues in the faculty lounge who think they know better,” Romney said to chortles, “President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy.” In a less-than-subtle dig at his competitors, he added “I will make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, for innovators, for job-creators and, unlike the other people running for President, I know how to do that because I’ve done it before.” He then segued directly to a promise to “defend religious liberty and overturn regulations that trample on our first freedom,” an apparently reference to the Administration’s decision last week to require that all employers, even religious ones, cover employees’ birth control costs. Romney’s speech also drew contrasts between his foreign policy positions and those he attributed to Obama as well as between the “European socialist” society Romney posits that Obama wants and Republicans reject.
Santorum, who suspended campaigning in Florida late last week due to the illness of his youngest daughter, Bella, addressed supporters in Nevada and told them “I think we’re going to have a little different result” there in Saturday’s caucuses than he had in Florida, where he took just over 10 percent of the vote. He inveighed against the negative campaigning that had gone on in Florida, telling his supporters, “If there’s one message that I think we got from the campaign in Florida it’s that Republicans can do better,” adding, “We can do better than the discussion and the dialogue and the accusations that were going on in the state of Florida and really this campaign went downhill.” He specifically took Gingrich to task for attacking Romney’s work as a businessman, and took Romney to task for attacking Gingrich’s work as a consultant lobbyist — but refused to get involved with “mudslinging.” Instead, he promised to give a speech about “Romneycare and Obamacare” and “cap and trade” who could draw a “clear contrast with Obama.”
Gingrich appeared next, telling his crowd of supporters that his win in Florida had decisively knocked Santorum and Paul out of the race: “I think Florida did something very important coming on top of South Carolina. It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate.” After then declaring that he would be the nominee in August despite only having won a single state (South Carolina), because “we’re going to have people power defeat money power in the next six months.”
For a candidate who took such criticism in the past week over his futuristic plans to place a colony-cum-American-state on the moon by the end of his second term, Gingrich nonetheless repeated the word “future” over ad infinitum in his speech. “This is a future we ask you to join us in imposing on the establishment in Washington and imposing it on both parties,” he said. He then preceded to talk about his past as part of the Washington establishment in developing and forcing votes on the Contract With America. “In the next few days, we’re going to develop the equivalent of the contract from 1994,” he said, “except this is going to be a personal one between me and you because I’m asking you to make me president.” Though he told supporters he needed a Republican House and Senate to repeal “Obamacare,” the Dodd-Frank consumer protection act and Sarbanes-Oxley Wall Street disclosure act his first day in office, he did have a list of promises he said he could keep without Congressional assistance. They included: abolishing the “White House czars,” authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, opening the embassy in Jerusalem and “[recognizing] Israel” (which President Truman did in 1948); reinstituting the Global Gag Rule that prohibits all UN programs from funding any organization that mentions abortion to women seeking it; and repealing all every “anti-religious act” of the Obama Administration, which he meant the rule that requires even religious employers to cover insurance for employees’ birth control. In the midst of his speech, he also made fun of President Obama’s Al Green moment, and then signed off by mentioning his study of history.
Paul gave the last speech of the night live from Nevada in recognition of his brutal loss in Florida. Unlike Gingrich, Paul congratulated Romney on his win, but said, “I’ll see him in the caucus states,” like Nevada, Maine and Colorado. He noted that, despite his losses, he was third in the delegate count and figured that he could do better in the caucus states because of his “energized” supporters. “Something big is happening in this country,” he said, ” and it’s all very favorable” because people are realizing that “we need more personal liberty.”
“But it is being translated into great enthusiasm and change, the change that we need,” he said, likely inadvertently borrowing from Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan. He then rallied the crowd by calling for “a new monetary policy,” and for people to “read the Constitution” to guide them to different monetary and foreign policies. “Very simply, it means bringing all our troops home and stopping all these undeclared, unwinnable wars.” Paul highlighted the connection between spending money on overseas wars and improving the economy, and then moved to talk about the need to repeal the PATRIOT Act and the provisions of the NDAA that allows Americans to be detained indefinitely without appeal on terrorism charges.
Paul then explained how increased personal liberties would end a great deal of social and political conflict. “This brings people together because people will use their liberty in different manners but we don’t have to fight over how they use their liberty as long as they assume responsibility for themselves and the consequences of all their actions,” he said. He then called upon the assembled Nevadans to “attend the caucuses” to help spread his message and gain more delegates in Tampa.
[This post was continuously updated as the candidates spoke.]
[Image via Gage Skidmore on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]