Romney basks in glory after Florida win

Thu, Feb 2, 2012, 00:00

IN ONE of the surest signs that Mitt Romney will be the Republican presidential nominee, the Secret Service assigned a unit to protect him after he won the Florida primary on Tuesday night.

Florida is the fourth most populous state, with an electorate which statistically mirrors the composition of the US. So Romney’s victory by 46 per cent to 32 per cent for Newt Gingrich was a powerful symbol of his electability nationwide.

Romney delivered his victory speech in the Tampa Convention Centre, where the Republican Party will doubtless anoint him in late August. By barely alluding to Gingrich – “A competitive primary does not divide us; it prepares us” – to concentrate instead on President Barack Obama, Romney seemed to assume the mantle of nominee.

Political websites have begun posting running tallies of the number of delegates won by each Republican hopeful. At the moment, Romney has 65 delegates, Gingrich 23, Rick Santorum 6 and Ron Paul 3. Gingrich emphasised that nothing is yet certain by making “46 States to Go” his new slogan. But the momentum of Romney’s Florida victory will propel him towards the 1,144 delegates he needs for the nomination.

Many of the upcoming primaries and caucuses will award delegates proportionately, not on a winner-take-all basis like Florida. Gingrich hopes to amass delegates by placing second, then winning three southern states – including his home state of Georgia – that vote on ‘Super Tuesday’, March 6th. The Gingrich campaign is so disorganised that he did not qualify for the ballot in his current state of residence, Virginia.

Romney yesterday held campaign rallies in Minnesota, which will vote on February 7th, and Nevada, which holds its caucuses on Saturday. February may not be kind to Gingrich. Nevada and Arizona have substantial Mormon populations who are likely to back Romney. The frontrunner grew up in Michigan, where his father was governor, and where he is expected to win on February 28th.

Gingrich’s rapid repartee in two debates won South Carolina for him. He then lost Florida through lacklustre debate performances. Without a treasure chest to rival Romney’s, debates are Gingrich’s main hope of staging a third comeback. But the next four contests will roll by without debates, and Gingrich will not have the opportunity to deploy his potent tongue again until February 22nd in Arizona.

Money is the nerve of war, and Romney benefits from virtually limitless funding. His personal fortune is estimated at $250 million. Figures released by the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday night showed that Restore Our Future, Romney’s Super PAC (political action committee), raised $30 million from just 200 donors in the second half of 2011. Contributors include the company he founded, Bain Capital, Goldman Sachs and the Walton family who own the Walmart chain.

Gingrich raised only $10 million, almost all of it from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the Las Vegas casino owners who support Gingrich because of his adamantly pro-Israel line.

Florida showed how crucial money is to winning. Romney’s PAC spent $15.4 million; Gingrich’s $3.7 million in the Sunshine State. Ninety-two per cent of campaign advertisements were negative, including 68 per cent against Gingrich and 23 per cent against Romney. It’s often alleged that negative advertising damages the image of the candidate who deploys it. But as former congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough observed yesterday, politicians would rather win ugly than lose pretty.

Gingrich is rejected massively by voters under 40 and gives the impression of living in the past. Romney is more forward-looking, and has demonstrated an ability to learn from his mistakes.

And in a country where “family values” matter, Romney has been married for 42 years to his childhood sweetheart. He rarely appears without some of his five sons and 16 grandchildren. “When they were dating,” the Romney’s eldest son Tagg told the Boston Globe in 2007, “he felt like she was way better than him, and he was really lucky to have this catch. He really, genuinely still feels that way, thinks, ‘I’m so lucky I’ve got her.’ So he puts her on a pedestal.”

That devotion shows on the campaign trail, where Ann Romney, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, is a huge asset. She introduces her husband at most events, including his victory speech on Tuesday night. Callista Gingrich is by all accounts an accomplished musician, but she never opens her mouth. In the minds of many voters, especially women, she will always be the hussy who stole Gingrich from his second wife Marianne when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

By eviscerating Gingrich in Iowa and Florida, Romney created a dangerous enemy. Gingrich built his career by targeting and destroying fellow congressmen, including the founder of the Black Caucus and a Democratic speaker of the House. He showed his animosity for Romney by neither phoning to congratulate him nor mentioning him in his speech on Tuesday night. Thenceforward, Romney will criss-cross the US with the equivalent of a scorpion in his baggage, never knowing when Gingrich might sting.

Yet Romney left Florida yesterday much fortified. Exit polls show he defeated Gingrich in 18 categories of voters, while Gingrich won only four categories: those who described themselves as “very conservative” and to whom banning abortion, being a “true conservative” and having “the right experience” mattered most.

Gingrich has staked his claim to the nomination on the idea that he is the true conservative, Romney a closet liberal. In an interview with MSNBC yesterday, Romney noted that Gingrich worked with Democrats to combat climate change, condemned Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s deficit reduction plan, and until 2009 argued for a federal health care mandate.

“The idea that (Gingrich) is somehow a conservative guy just doesn’t square with his record,” Romney said. “My record is conservative. Here in Florida, people who called themselves conservative and Tea Party supporters voted in the majority for me.”

Upcoming primaries/caucuses

REPUBLICAN Party primaries and caucuses between now and Super Tuesday, March 6th:

February 4th:Nevada (caucus)

February 4th-11th:Maine (caucus)

February 7th:Colorado (caucus);Minnesota (caucus); Missouri (primary but poll will not send delegates to the candidate selection conventon in August)

February 28th:Arizona (primary);Michigan (primary)

March 3rd:Washington (caucus)

March 6th: Super Tuesday

Alaska(caucus)

Georgia(primary)

Idaho(caucus)

Massachusetts(primary)

North Dakota(caucus)

Ohio(primary)

Oklahoma(primary)

Tennessee(primary)

Vermont(primary)

Virginia(primary)