Another week, another GOP presidential primary in the bag, this one perhaps set to resonate more than the contests before it.
Florida broke the presidential primary rules by scheduling its winner-take-all contest for the last Tuesday of January. As a consequence, the state's delegates were halved by the RNC, leaving it with a total of 50 to give to the winner.
The state's decision to push the primary forward undoubtedly increased the Sunshine State's significance, but it simultaneously shifted the candidates' calculations about campaigning there, as both Rick Santorum and Ron Paul dedicated little time to a competition they knew they couldn't win outright. Gingrich, however, hit the state hard with a renewed confidence after an overwhelming victory in South Carolina. But Mitt Romney, who led in Florida polls early, maintained his advantage and won a resounding victory on Tuesday.
It's a tough loss for Gingrich, whose campaign had already risen from the ashes multiple times this cycle just to remain in contention. Now he'll need to do so again, facing even longer odds against a resurgent Romney. Whether or not he's actually likely to rebound, Gingrich has promised to remain in the race until the Republican national convention, or until his opponents drop out. While some have predicted that this is a campaign season bluff, The Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports that he could indeed be serious about the decision. If he is, it would make for a long and acrimonious war of attrition, evidenced by the increasingly nasty tone of political rhetoric in Florida coming from both candidates and super PACs.
Until Republicans pick a nominee, President Barack Obama is left to watch the carnage play out, all the while preparing for his re-election by fundraising and honing his campaign message.
Below is a list of winners and losers from the Florida primary. Make your pick for the biggest in each category.
With his win in Florida, Romney reclaims any momentum that he lost after a rather surprising defeat to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina. Florida's winner-take-all format grants him 50 vital delegates that he can add to his tally. Romney will take his formidable advantage in fundraising and endorsements to the Nevada caucuses next week, where he currently holds a lead in polling. Surveys in other upcoming primary contests also show that Romney will be tough to topple.
Gingrich's win in South Carolina earlier this month gave him enough confidence to pour millions of dollars into his Florida operation, which was outmatched by Romney's campaign spending from the beginning. In the end he'll have nothing to show for it in the way of delegates. Gingrich may be bruised and battered after his loss, but he's pledged to make Romney battle him for the nomination all the way until the Republican convention, even though it looks like he'll have to overcome very steep odds to seize the lead from Romney.
While the Republicans duked it out in a brutal primary contest heavily reliant on personal attacks, the Democrats were able to sit back and watch their chances for victory in November grow. The longer the contest goes on -- and the more the GOP candidates fine tune their attacks on each other's flaws -- the better for President Obama and his colleagues on the left. With Gingrich vowing not to give up until the GOP convention, it's possible this thing could go the ugly distance.
$10 million in donations from the Adelson family to pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future failed to improve the candidate's fortunes with a mix of both positive and negative ads. The super PAC contributed to what some called the "most negative campaign ever" by spending over $4 million on ads in Florida, but still got outspent by a wide margin by its Romney-supporting counterpart Restore Our Future, which opted for a strategy based entirely on attacking his opponents.
If the Florida campaign seemed particularly brutal this year, there's a reason for it. According to an analysis of campaign ads aired in the Sunshine State during the week leading up to the primary, 92 percent of the ads were negative. The emergence of super PACs only added fuel to the fire, allowing supporters of the candidates to make pointed attacks without much accountability. However, the foul play goes all the way back to last year, when Florida decided to break the rules and hold its primary early in order to wield maximum influence in the nominating process. The state may have lost half its delegates, but it will likely still play a key role in choosing the eventual GOP nominee.
Rick Scott's unpopularity -- his approval rating is currently below 40 percent -- helped make Florida's Republican governor somewhat of a pariah in his own state's nominating contest. Unlike earlier primaries, candidates did not make an effort here to get the governor in their camp, and Scott made no endorsement prior to Tuesday's primary. As University of Miami political science professor Gregory Koger told TPM, a Scott endorsement could have "hurt as much as help." On election day, Scott remained mum on who he'd voted for.
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