TAMPA, Florida — Mitt Romney climbed back into the driver's seat Tuesday (January 31) with a big win in the Florida primary. Shortly after polls closed, CNN projected that Romney would win the state with 47 percent of the vote to Gingrich's 31 percent.
Thanks to his two solid debate appearances and his huge money advantage over Newt Gingrich, Romney seemed relaxed and confident in the 24 hours before the results came in when MTV News spent time trailing the campaign all over the state.
With more than 4 million GOP voters eligible to vote in the primary, early reports indicated that between 1.5 million and 2 million could cast votes. The win is an important one for Romney for several reasons. It erases the memory of his five-point loss to Senator John McCain in the 2008 Florida primary, and it also means that this time he scoops up all 50 delegates in the winner-takes-all state.
He was helped along by the massive infusion of cash for (mostly) negative ads attacking Gingrich funded by his own campaign and the Restore Our Future SuperPac, which outspent Gingrich and his allied Pac, Winning Our Future, by a 4-to-1 margin. Together, the men spent more than $20 million on the bruising battle in the important swing state with the highest foreclosure rate and one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
In a stark contrast to the three previous contests, according to CNN exit polls in Florida, Romney finally broke through to young voters (18-29), a group he had previously not clicked with. While Romney had reliably scored with older voters, in Florida, he won 39 percent of the youth votes to 26 percent for Congressman Ron Paul, 23 percent for Gingrich and 12 percent for Rick Santorum. In part, Paul lost his usual pull with young voters in the Sunshine State because Tuesday's contest was a "closed" primary, which meant that only registered Republicans, and not independents, could cast ballots.
The Libertarian-leaning Paul did not spend much time campaigning in Florida, preferring to focus on the upcoming Nevada primary on Saturday. He came in a distant fourth place with just 7 percent of the vote, bested by former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum (13 percent), who was forced to quit campaigning over the weekend to attend to a sick child.
There were also not early results on if the state's controversial new voter-registration laws had any impact on the turnout. Should they stay in place through the general election in November — there are currently several lawsuits attempting to overturn the laws — some voting-rights advocate worry they could have a suppressive effect on a number of traditionally Democrat-leaning voting blocs, including young and minority voters. The next contest takes place Saturday in Nevada.
MTV is on the scene in Florida! Check back for up-to-the-minute coverage of the primaries and stick with PowerOf12.org throughout the 2012 presidential election season.