Mitt Romney collected on his investment Tuesday night and trounced Newt Gingrich in the Florida primary. Romney, who knows a little about investing; plunked down $16 million in Super Pac money to buy 12,700 negative attack ads against Gingrich. He speculated that by drowning his opponent in negative accusations he would win Florida and return his candidacy to its rightful place as the Republican frontrunner. His investment panned out. But just like many of Romney’s other successful business ventures, this one resulted in carnage that will have long lasting effects down the road.
Florida is a huge multi-cultural state. Running a campaign in Florida is like running a countrywide general election. Romney won Florida by 14 points. He bludgeoned Gingrich in the debates proving that he had the spine to go toe to toe with an aggressive opponent. His monolithic campaign machine; a testament to his organizational skills; was relentless in its attacks against Gingrich; overwhelming him with 12,700 ads to Newt’s 200, and outspending Gingrich 4-1. Romney did what he had to do to win a major victory. The question is …at what cost.
In the immediate aftermath of Romney’s Florida victory many news organizations were quick to proclaim the campaign all but over. Pundits proselytized that Romney would do well in the upcoming contests in Maine, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona and Michigan; thereby extinguishing any glimmer of hope in the Gingrich campaign and sealing the deal for Romney.
But as a sage old football coach once said: “not so fast my friend.”
Romney won Florida with 46% of the vote. 52% of the voters cast ballots for someone else. The conservative base hates him and Romney’s attack ads only fueled their mission to bring him down. 38% of those polled are still dissatisfied with the Republican slate and hopeful that a more acceptable candidate will emerge from the sidelines. Will that 52% coalesce behind Romney; or will they band together behind Gingrich or Santorum or some other “Not Romney” candidate? Newt believes that ultimately they will line up behind him; and he has vowed to go to take the fight all the way to the convention if necessary.
Romney’s carpet bombing of Gingrich was obviously effective. But the negativity and harshness of the attacks has turned voters against Romney. Romney’s approval ratings have plummeted into the negative numbers; second only to the most disliked politician of all time; Newt Gingrich. Yet Gingrich leads Romney in most national polls.
There is an old saying in Florida: “the further north you go, the further south you get.” Romney won Florida on the strength of his performance in the central and southern parts of the state. Gingrich won the north and northwest; the “Redneck Riviera” and the “traditional south” part of Florida. Gingrich does very well in the heart of the Republican Party; the “traditional south”. His win in South Carolina proves the point. On March 6-17, the campaign moves into a host of southern states. Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi all hold primaries or caucuses. If Newt can hold on until those first two weeks in March he can wreak a lot of havoc on the Romney campaign.
Finally, while it may seem like this campaign has been going on forever; it is just barely getting started. There are 2,174 delegates for the taking. A candidate needs 1,144 to win the nomination. After Florida’s primary only 5% (112) of the available delegates have been awarded: Romney 71; Gingrich 23; Santorum 13; Paul 3; and Huntsman 2. This race is a long, long way from being over.
Mitt Romney bought the Florida primary. It cost him $16 million dollars for 50 delegates. Can he buy his way to the nomination? It’s way too early to make that call.