Romney came into Florida with a lot to prove after having narrowly lost in Iowa, easily won in New Hampshire (where he was essentially a favorite-son candidate), and then getting pummeled by candidate Newt Gingrich in South Carolina. Romney failed to shine in the debates, failed to mount an effective defense of his work with Bain Capital and failed to present a strong case for why he, not Newt, should be the nominee.
But the former Massachusetts governor corrected his course in the Sunshine State. He was much more forceful in the debates, while at the same time Gingrich was lackluster. Romney and his allies gave Gingrich a taste of his own medicine when it came to “scorched earth” campaigning. And Romney’s superior organization and better-funded campaign also were decisive factors.
Neither Rick Santorum nor Ron Paul competed in Florida. Whether they can find any momentum at this late date is problematic, to the say the least.
Florida is much more representative of the country as a whole than South Carolina or New Hampshire or Iowa are, and Romney proved once and for all that he can be competitive in such a setting. The evangelical vote that did so much to fuel Gingrich’s rise in South Carolina was much smaller in Florida, just like it is in the country at large. Exit polls of female voters in Florida showed them much more inclined to have concerns about Gingrich’s turbulent personal life than their “sisters” in South Carolina were.
The former House Speaker also showed again his historic proclivity for shooting himself in the foot, straying off-message to muse about establishing colonies on the Moon and making it our 51st state. It didn’t play well even in Florida, the heart of the U.S. space industry. Meanwhile, Gingrich’s amnesty-in-all-but-name immigration proposal flopped as well, as it deserves to.
Gingrich continuously touts his debating skills as a main reason why he should be the nominee. And yes, he has shown flashes of brilliance on the debate stage during this primary season, resurrecting himself from a footnote to a semi-finalist. But the public is electing a president, not a debater-in-chief. And while he keeps talking about wanting to stage a series of debates with President Obama modeled on the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, it’s worth remembering that even though Lincoln won those debates, he lost that year’s U.S. Senate race to Stephen Douglas.
Mitt Romney has an appeal to moderates and independent voters that Gingrich does not. There are plenty of Americans thoroughly disenchanted with the Obama regime who would vote for Romney, but who would never consider voting for Gingrich as an alternative to Obama.
And though Romney was much more moderate, even liberal, on certain issues earlier in his career (just as Newt has been), the most important thing is that he has moved to the right and says he plans to stay there. If only more Americans were doing the same.
The past month has been a baptism by fire for Romney and unquestionably has made him a stronger candidate. And if the race continues, as it looks like it will, with Georgia voters getting their chance to weigh in on “Super Tuesday,” he will continue to improve and hone his appeal, ultimately making him an even stronger candidate this fall