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What Light From the Sunshine State?

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What light has been shed by the Florida Republican presidential primary? It's not easy to see how Newt Gingrich wins. And it's not hard to see how Mitt Romney falls.

Florida answered several key questions about the race. Would Gingrich blow it (again)? Would Romney buy it? Would the negative out-weigh the positive? Would Gingrich give up if he lost?

** Would Gingrich blow it (again)?

Let us count the ways. Or, mercifully, let us not. I'm not a fan of the media culture's rampant practice of distance psychoanalysis, though my long-ago psychology minor undoubtedly qualifies me. (That's a little joke.) But the ex-House speaker does not seem to thrive when he is in the leading role. Perhaps he is more comfortable as the anti-hero, notwithstanding his constant comparisons of himself to some of the most famous protagonists in history.

Gingrich had the chance to take command of the race in November and December. Instead, he declared himself the nominee and then allowed Romney and others to take him down.

In Florida, after he trounced Romney in the state that no Republican nominee has ever lost, Gingrich delivered two meandering debate performances, failed to deliver a consistent positive message, failed to deliver a focused negative message, and allowed the attacks of his enemies to derail him into the defensive politics of personal aggrievement.

** Would Romney buy it?
Of course he would. After all, he made his vast fortune as a corporate takeover specialist.

Gingrich's 13-point landslide in South Carolina is matched by Romney's 14-point landslide in Florida. The constant is that Romney forces vastly outspent Gingrich forces in both states.

But in Florida, they out-did themselves.

Romney forces have spent more money on ads in Florida alone than John McCain spent in his entire 2008 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. And they were virtually all negative attacks on Gingrich.

Romney's big edge over Gingrich in conventional fundraising for his official campaign is more than matched by a huge edge in super PAC funding. Today we learned what we should have already realized, as the long unrevealed facts of the Romney super PAC were unveiled.

Romney is benefiting hugely, far more than Gingrich, from the notorious Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited contributions to aligned committees not formally coordinating with one another. Restore Our Future, run by Romney 2008 presidential campaign aides, is funded with massive contributions from the very sort of private equity and hedge fund folks who participated in Romney's career in high finance.

Hey, a takeover is a takeover is a takeover.

** Would the negative out-weigh the positive? Vastly so.

I'm told upwards of 90% of Romney's ads were negative attacks on Gingrich. After trying to ignore Romney's attacks in their first of two Florida debates, Gingrich also went heavily negative.

Gingrich was blitzed on the airwaves in the Sunshine State, with the Romney super PAC driving a negative campaign against the ex-House speaker which has seen him outspent by 4-to-1, with a stunning $16 million spent for Romney. The pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future super PAC, having spent about $3 million, does not appear to have committed over $3 million it had been expected to spend in Florida. The better to save it for future contests, as it happens.

As was the case with Romney's first TV ad of the campaign, built around a false attack on President Barack Obama, much of what Romney and company are doing is distorted.

Romney and Gingrich's negatives with independents have skyrocketed in the course of the campaign, as each has struggled to define himself as a true conservative.

** Would Gingrich give up?

Gingrich, who crushed Romney in South Carolina little more than a week ago, vows to continue for the long term. The vehemence and, in his view, unfairness, of the attacks against him by Romney and by various establishment elements may guarantee a result that the pro-Romney crew fears nearly as much as losing to Gingrich.

So here is what we know, in the now fading light cast by the Sunshine State.

When the chips are down, Romney antes up. That is fitting for someone whose entire career is, literally, about money.

While it is a strength in the most conventional sense, it's actually a profound weakness of his candidacy, especially considering the obvious problems with his public attitudes about finance and the realities of how he became so phenomenally wealth.

But it would be an even bigger problem if Gingrich didn't have financial woes in his own campaign, which is getting close to running on empty again after raising more than $5 million last month.

Fortunately for him, he's heading into a rather sparse stretch of lower cost/lower key contests in February. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't have much momentum as he does so.

But again fortunately for him, these are all proportional representation contests, allowing him to easily hold on in striking distance in the delegate race until things head south early next month on Super Tuesday. Unlike Florida, which is winner-take-all.

Or is it?

It was supposed to be proportional. It was also supposed to be in February. But Florida broke party rules, jumping ahead of Nevada and declaring itself a winner-take-all state. This could easily be the subject of a legal challenge down the line.

Meanwhile, as things quiet down for a spell, with poor Nevada (its planned for place in the sun as one of the first four contests usurped by the interloping Floridians) holding its after-thought caucuses on Saturday, Gingrich is in what appears to be his comfort zone. He's the man the establishment loves to hate, and vice versa.

Now he waits for buyers' remorse, a frequent phenomenon in presidential primaries, to set in on Romney, the frontrunner never beloved by his own party. As we've seen a couple of times already in this strange contest. And for the advent of friendly Southern contest territory March 6th on Super Tuesday.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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