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Romney triumphs over Gingrich in Florida

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-02-01

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney trounced Newt Gingrich in Tuesday's Florida primary, 46% to 32%, putting the Republican nomination for the presidency firmly within his reach.

Mitt Romney is back in the driving seat to become the Republican presidential candidate after a convincing victory in the Florida primary on Tuesday.

Romney routed his main rival Newt Gingrich with the margin of victory 42 percent to 32 percent of the roughly two million votes counted.

Romney’s triumph comes just 11 days after he lost out to 68 year-old Gingrich in South Carolina, a victory that reignited Gingrich’s campaign and sent shock waves through the Republican Party.

Mitt Romney: a product of the American dream?

But with the Florida victory under his belt Romney, 64, is now the clear favourite to become the Republican presidential candidate to take on Barack Obama in November’s White House elections.

“President Obama wants to fundamentally transform America and make it something perhaps we would not recognise. I want to restore to America the values and principles that made us the hope of the earth,” said Romney after the victory.

Going personal

The campaign to win the Florida primary was marked by the personal attacks that flew between the Republican candidates, something that was music to the ears of the Democrat Party.

FRANCE 24’s Washington correspondent Nathan King said the pressure will now be on Gingrich to drop out of the race so the party can unite behind Romney.

“There will be huge amounts of pressure for Newt Gingrich to step aside, even among his former colleagues in Congress,” said King. “They want a nominee and they don’t want this bloody battle going forward. They see it only benefitting Barack Obama in the long run.”

FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor Douglas Herbert put Romney’s Florida win down to money and his ability to flood the state’s advertising market. Gingrich did not have the financial reserves to match it.

But the chances of Gingrich simply stepping aside are slim, claims Herbert.

“The Gingrich brand is not to give up,” Herbert said. “His brand is to be stubborn and to stick to it. He’s an anti establishment type guy. He will be dragged through the dirt and kicked until he’s bruised and bloodied but he will keep on going.”

US PRESIDENTIAL 2012
The battle to become the Republican nominee now moves to the state of Nevada on Saturday.

Gingrich himself vowed to carry on after the defeat and his chances of success could depend on fellow republican candidate Rick Santorum.

Santorum finished third in Florida picking up 13 percent of the vote. If he is persuaded to withdraw from the race his conservative backing could swing behind Gingrich and present a real challenge to Romney.

“It’s now clear that this will be a two person race between conservative leader Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate (referring to Romney),” said Gingrich. “We are going to contest everyplace and we are going to win.”

Romney attacking strategy

Only days ago, Romney’s prospects for a victory in Florida were shaky. But the candidate emerged from his defeat in South Carolina with an aggressive, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink strategy to stem the rising threat from his number one rival to the Republican nomination.

After weeks of firing at Obama, Romney shifted his focus to Gingrich, bombarding the former Congressman with every tool at his disposal: advertisements, campaign speeches, debates, and appearances by high-profile “surrogates”, like 2008 Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain and actor Jon Voight.

Romney’s combative performances in two debates in Florida, however, have been largely credited for reclaiming the momentum from Gingrich after a stretch of unflattering press coverage surrounding the 15% tax rate the former governor paid on his multimillion dollar income.

Romney’s campaign also spent considerable funds on mailings and TV ads emphasising Gingrich’s controversial tenure in the House of Representatives in order to dispel the notion that the former House speaker is a Washington outsider.

Helping Romney further was Gingrich’s notorious, self-proclaimed penchant for grandiose ideas, with the candidate vowing Wednesday to install a colony on the moon by 2020. Romney and his supporters pounced on the moon statement as evidence of Gingrich’s erratic nature, saying the ill-timed project would cost trillions of dollars.

Obama campaign lifted

The Obama campaign team’s spirits are undoubtedly lifted by the kind of internecine Republican swiping seen in Florida, with the president’s approval ratings seeing modest gains since primary season kicked off.

Prominent pundit Dr. Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia,
pointed out that if Romney is the candidate “Obama can simply air the attacks on Romney in his TV ads in the fall, as the attacks have more credibility coming from Republicans”.

However, John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington used Obama’s own electoral history to counter the notion that he could significantly benefit from a knock-down, drag-out Romney-Gingrich slugfest.

“The long primary fight [between Obama and Hillary Clinton] in 2008 did not hurt Obama in the general election, so it shouldn’t really hurt Romney this time,” Fortier said. “In the long term, voters come home to their party.”

Date created : 2012-02-01

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