Romney set to win 'most negative' contest in Florida

Wed, Feb 1, 2012, 00:00

REPUBLICANS VOTED in the Florida primary yesterday, after what a media expert termed the most negative campaign ever. The leading candidate, Mitt Romney, spent more than $14 million on advertising in Florida, while Newt Gingrich, who was expected to finish second, spent some $3 million.

According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, negative “attack ads” accounted for 92 per cent of advertisements in Florida. “I spent much of my academic career telling reporters, ‘Relax, this is not the most negative campaign ever’,” Ken Goldstein of the group told CNN. “Well, this is the most negative campaign ever.”

Opinion polls showed Mr Romney would win the primary, though the estimated spread between him and Mr Gingrich varied from eight to 20 points.

The winner will be allotted all 50 of the state’s delegates at the Republican convention in Tampa next August.

“I think the winner of Florida is in all likelihood going to be the nominee of our party,” Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American senator from Florida predicted.

Mr Gingrich hopes to benefit if the former Senator Rick Santorum drops out of the race. “When people look at the numbers tonight, it’s going to be very clear that I’m the leading conservative, that I have the best chance of beating Governor Romney, and that the longer conservatives stay split, the harder it’s going to be for us to stop a moderate who as governor was pro-abortion, pro-gun control and pro-tax increases,” Mr Gingrich told Fox News.

The campaign ended with Mr Romney mocking Mr Gingrich to retired Floridians: “The speaker’s not very happy . . . it’s sad; he’s been flailing around a bit trying to go after me for one thing or the other. You just watch, and you shake your head. It’s been kind of painfully revealing.”

In the last days of the campaign, Mr Gingrich reverted to the more extreme language that won the Tea Party and evangelical Christian vote for him in South Carolina.

At his rallies on Monday, Michael Reagan, the son of the former president, told the audience to think of liberals as “termites”.

Former candidate Herman Cain declared that “stupid people are ruining this country”.

Mr Gingrich gleefully quoted the left-leaning Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist George Soros, who said there would be little difference between an Obama presidency and a Romney presidency.

Mr Gingrich called Mr Romney “extraordinarily insensitive to religious freedom in America”, comparing him with what he called the Obama administration’s “war on religion”. As governor of Massachusetts, Mr Gingrich said, “Romney cut off kosher food to elderly Jews on Medicare.”

Florida has one of the largest Jewish populations in the US. Mr Romney vetoed funding for eight kosher nursing homes in 2003 at a time of fiscal crisis, but the veto was overturned by the state assembly before it took effect.

Even as the election was under way, the two leading candidates attempted to link each other to the housing crash in Florida, where 23 per cent of all mortgaged homes are delinquent or in foreclosure.

Mr Romney said the fact that Mr Gingrich took $1.6 million from the government-backed mortgage lender Freddie Mac “irked people and I think that’s a real reason why Speaker Gingrich has had such a hard time”.

Mr Gingrich said Goldman Sachs, which propagated mortgage-backed securities, were “heavily into the Romney campaign”.

Mr Gingrich broadcast anti-Obama television advertisements in English and Spanish claiming the US government “is starting to look like” the Castro regime in Cuba. Sarah Palin, whose husband Todd made telephone calls for the Gingrich campaign, called criticism of Mr Gingrich by Republican leaders “Stalin-esque”.

In a sarcastic jibe at Mr Romney, President Barack Obama’s strategist David Axelrod posted a photograph of Mr Obama in a car with the family dog Bo, and the caption “How loving owners transport their dogs.”

In 1983, Mr Romney famously left the family’s Irish setter, Séamus, in a crate strapped to the roof of the car during a 12-hour trip to Canada.