Salena Zito

TAMPA -- Mitt Romney easily won Florida's Republican presidential primary in a record-breaking performance on Tuesday.

The victory gives the former Massachusetts governor 50 GOP delegates and renewed momentum as he heads to caucuses in Nevada and Maine, and then in Colorado and Minnesota.

With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had 46 percent of the vote.

"I stand ready to lead this party and lead this nation," said Romney, standing with his wife, Ann, four of his five sons and two daughters-in-laws on a stage in the ballroom of the Tampa Convention Center in downtown.

The race was called the moment the polls closed at 8 p.m. The crowd that filled the ballroom erupted with cheers, waving miniature American flags and shouting, "Go, Mitt, go."

In his speech, Romney dismissed the possibility of party division after the brutal Florida primary, saying, "A competitive primary does not divide us. It prepares us, and we will win."

He then turned his focus toward November and Obama. "You were elected to lead," he said. "Instead, you chose to follow, and now it is time for you to get out of the way."

His campaign said Romney's vote total -- more than 750,000 -- is the highest for any GOP candidate in a Florida presidential primary. The previous high was John McCain's 701,000 votes in 2008.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich finished second with 32 percent of the vote, just 10 days after his surprising upset win in South Carolina. As expected, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania placed third and Texas congressman Ron Paul, who did not campaign in Florida beyond two debates, finished last. The two had conceded the state to the lead rivals.

Gingrich, the first GOP candidate to win the South Carolina primary and lose in Florida in the same year, told his supporters at the Rosen Hotel in Orlando it was clear that it is a two-person race.

He told the crowd there are still "46 states to go," in keeping with his vow to take the contest to the convention.

Gingrich, who used an anti-establishment theme in the closing days of the primary, said: "We're going to have people power defeat money power in the next six months."

Romney's win puts him squarely on the road to the party's nomination, said Kyle Kondik, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.

"He took Newt Gingrich's best shot in Florida and dispatched him," Kondik said.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.
 


TOWNHALL MEDIA GROUP