Romney moves on with renewed hopes
Mitt Romney clobbered Newt Gingrich in Florida's Republican primary vote and moves on to the next state, Nevada, with a fat campaign bankroll and a renewed sense that he is the inevitable challenger to President Barack Obama.
Ten days after Mr Gingrich hammered Mr Romney by a similar margin in South Carolina, one of the most conservative American states, the chaotic Republican nominating contest took another dramatic turn in Florida.
Florida also will be a key battleground in the general election later this year as a large and diverse state with a history of backing candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Mr Romney and his allies poured roughly 16 million dollars into Florida television advertising for the primary alone.
Mr Romney spoke as though he was the presumptive nominee, declaring himself ready "to lead this party and our nation. Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it's time to get out of the way," he said.
Mr Obama's campaign issued a fund-raising appeal focused on the millions that Mr Romney and his supporters have poured into negative ads. "That's ugly, and it tells us a lot about what to expect from Romney if he wins the Republican nomination," said campaign manager Jim Messina. "They're going to try to spend and smear their way to the White House."
With Mr Obama vulnerable in his bid for a second White House term because of the slow US economic recovery, about half of Florida primary voters said the most important factor for them was a candidate who could defeat the president, according to exit poll results conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.
Mr Romney, who had failed to draw much above a quarter of the vote in three previous primary and caucus contests in smaller states, won almost half the votes in Florida's four-person race. That damages Mr Gingrich's contention that the voters who oppose Mr Romney outnumber those who favour him.
But in talking to CNN on Wednesday morning, Mr Romney again made a comment that could make voters wonder whether the millionaire candidate is in touch with average Americans.
"I'm not concerned about the very poor," he said. "We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 % of Americans who are struggling."
It didn't take the Mr Obama campaign long to pounce on Mr Romney's comments: "So much for 'we're all in this together,'" said his campaign.