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Florida boosts Romney’s cause

Florida seems to have impact every presidential cycle. Last week’s presidential preference primary may be the latest example.

The GOP race — for the time being, at least — appears to be a two-man race, with one limping rather noticeably now. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who hails from our state, entered the Florida campaign full of momentum after he turned an early, sizable Mitt Romney lead in South Carolina into a win of his own.

That came on the heels of Romney’s win in New Hampshire, and his disputed win in the Iowa caucuses that “officially” launched a presidential season that already seems to have been going on forever.

The Iowa caucuses were indecisive. Romney had been expected to do well in New Hampshire, which was more or less in his backyard. Gingrich had been the longtime favorite in South Carolina, a state he was expected to perform well in, lost that lead to Romney, then wrested it back.

Florida, however, was a different animal altogether.

Gingrich came in with momentum and Democrat-friendly political action organizations, smelling blood, started ripping Romney in attack ads before the candidate’s plane entered the Sunshine State’s airspace. Romney came in with his own substantial warchest and set about to show that he could fight bare knuckle with Gingrich, one of a premier political pugilist.

Florida is a state that often defies categorization. In many ways, it is a microcosm of the United States with it range in age, ethnicity and socioeconomics. It has also been one of the hardest hit states by the recession.

What the results of Tuesday’s election showed was that while Romney might not be the most exciting candidate the Republicans could pit against President Obama this November, he has the best chance of actually winning the White House.

The fact is, the election in November will be settled by the middle-road voters, especially those of us who consider ourselves to be independents. The hard-core conservatives will vote Republican; the hard-core liberals will vote Democrat. Both sides, regardless of the candidate, will start with a guaranteed base.

Exit polls showed that Romney, who spent $5 campaigning for every $1 Gingrich spent, beat Gingrich decisively with women (52 percent to 28 percent); voters 65 and older (51 percent to 34 percent); Hispanics (54 percent to 29 percent); those focused on finding someone who can beat Obama (58 percent to 33 percent), and those concerned about the economy (52 percent to 30 percent). Gingrich’s one bright spot was four out of seven voters who labeled themselves very conservative and/or tea partiers preferred him.

The Republican primaries will now head out west (with a trip to Maine thrown in) for a few weeks before returning to more populous states, including Georgia, for the March 6 Super Tuesday.

Unless something momentous happens, Romney appears to finally be getting his turn with Republicans, who have flirted with every candidate of the day so far. If Republicans seriously want to reclaim the White House, Gingrich will have to do something that will be distasteful to him — begin helping the party unify behind Romney, who has the money, organization and appeal to independent voters that are necessary to mount a viable challenge to Obama. Gingrich can continue to bruise Romney, dimming the party’s prospects in the fall by giving Democrats ammunition, or he can bruise his own ego and help his party line up for the bigger challenge in the fall.