What a long, strange trip it’s been. Mitt Romney won a broad victory in New Hampshire, carrying nearly every demographic subcategory of the Republican primary electorate. Newt Gingrich responded with an equally broad win in South Carolina. Just nine days after Gingrich last led in the Sunshine State polls, Florida has delivered Romney another New Hampshire-like triumph.
Romney has beaten Gingrich by a solid, double-digit margin. He has won more votes than Gingrich and Rick Santorum combined. Florida has given Romney all 50 of its delegates (assuming the allocation isn’t changed later). This now gives him the lead in the Associated Press’ delegate count, though there is a long way to go.
This is the beginning of Romney’s closing argument, where he tries to regain his aura of inevitability. Gingrich will need to come up with a strategy for remaining viable over the month of February, where he is not expected to win any primaries or caucuses, and desperate robocalls about Romney trying to deprive Holocaust survivors of kosher food probably won’t cut it. Santorum will also have to see if he can gain any momentum based on Gingrich’s defeat. Ron Paul effectively bypassed Florida, but one wonders if getting just 7 percent of the vote there — his first single-digit showing of 2008 — will have any impact on his caucus state supporters.
There are some chinks in Romney’s armor. The strong combined Gingrich-Santorum showing in the Panhandle suggests Romney will continue to have problems in the South. Gingrich also carried voters who cared most about abortion, suggesting concerns remain about Romney’s pro-life credentials.