Romney rolls in Florida. Few experts comment on this.
Benjamin Berger, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Swarthmore College
Romney’s resounding victory in the Florida primary isn’t the end of the road for Newt Gingrich, but it’s almost certainly the beginning of the end. Gingrich desperately needed to follow up his South Carolina victory with another win in Florida, and even if he had done that I would have expected Romney to prevail eventually. People forget that in 1996, the controversial conservative Pat Buchanan won three of the first four Republican presidential primaries before the more moderate and statesmanlike Bob Dole—the early favorite—secured the nomination by a wide margin. Romney could have withstood a loss in Florida but I don’t think that Gingrich can. The next primary is in Nevada, where Romney won big in 2008 and where he’s expected to win again. Romney could also win all three of the February 7th primaries; he won Colorado and Minnesota in 2008, and in Missouri Gingrich isn’t even on the ballot. At some point Romney’s momentum will overwhelm the other candidates.
Gingrich got a big boost in Florida polling right after his South Carolina victory, but before that Romney had been considered a heavy favorite. He reclaimed that status quickly. The two biggest factors were organization and money. Romney enjoyed a very heavy ground presence in Florida for months prior to the primary, and his supporters worked to get absentee voters and early voters behind him. He also outspent Gingrich by nearly a 5 to 1 ratio, flooding the airwaves with television ads. Those ads turned quite negative in the last week as Romney tried to counter Gingrich’s attacks on him, and the critical tone seemed to turn many against Gingrich.
It’s true that Romney is unpopular among some conservatives, but unfortunately for Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum their party is called the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party. Not all Republicans are deeply conservative; in fact, the electorate is relatively moderate overall. So while the media has harped on Romney’s difficulty with true conservatives, many seem to forget that US voters have not elected a truly conservative President since Ronald Reagan. And Reagan’s popularity may have owed less to his conservatism than to his folksy charisma, which neither Gingrich nor Santorum possesses.
That said, Romney might have some difficulty in the conservative Southern states: Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas, with West Virginia of the mid-Atlantic region added in. If Newt Gingrich wins some or all of those primaries Romney will try to argue that Gingrich can only win in the South and thus wouldn’t be a good Presidential candidate at the national level. Romney could also experience opposition in Indiana and Nebraska, which are reasonably conservative as well. But he should be the favorite in the less-conservative states, which happen to include some of the largest populations (most notably California and New York). Overall, only a handful of the upcoming primaries are being held in deeply conservative states and Romney will probably prevail among the more moderate populations.
David Karol, Associate Professor, American Politics, University of Maryland
Romney’s victory in Florida is a major blow to Gingrich. It is very difficult to imagine Gingrich coming back from this defeat to win the nomination. It’s true that he has bounced back earlier in this campaign, but we are now moving into a phase that will be much more difficult for him. After Florida several states will hold caucuses. For caucuses the role of organization is very important because relatively few people participate compared to primaries, so a candidate who can mobilize his supporters has a big advantage. Gingrich has a very poorly organized campaign compared to Romney and this will hurt him in states like Nevada. The fact that from now on the campaign will be in more than one state at a time means the role of organization and money will be even more important, putting Gingrich at an increasing disadvantage vis-a-vis Romney. It is also the case that there will not be debates for several weeks now. In some of the debates Gingrich did very well, allowing him to compensate to a degree for his financial disadvantage. He actually did less will in the Florida debates and in any case will not have the opportunity to debate again for some time.
If Gingrich had a stronger campaign I would say that Romney’s weakness with conservatives would give the former Speaker an opening in some Southern states that will vote on Super Tuesday in early March, including Tennessee, Oklahoma and the state of Georgia, where he was a Member of Congress for twenty years. But I think that by that time he will have been defeated in several states besides Florida and will be seen as hopeless. Pressure will increase on him to quit the race.
Allan Louden, Professor of Communication, Wake Forest University
It is a huge win for Romney. A win for organization and negative advertising.
He still has not been able to crack the 50% mark in a primary, however, even with the field essentially down to two, with two non-competitors aboard in Florida. But 46+% is in the neighborhood.
The “Anyone but Romney” crowd is alive and well, and undoubtedly will be heard from on Super Tuesday, yet the time and opportunity are running out on stopping Romney’s inevitability. GOP voters have said, “anyone but Romney” . . . except for Gingrich, except for Santorum, except for Paul . . . and all the other pretenders.
Primary elections are often a “selection by residue.” The current round, like 2008 is producing a candidate in a similar time frame, flawed, exposed, embraced lukewarm, But also allows the development of a fully functioning campaign organization and relegating attacks to the status of “old news” for the fall election.
John Geer, Chair, Department of Political Science, Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Education, Vanderbilt University
The GOP will close ranks behind Romney. Gingrich may continue to campaign, but it will only isolate him more.
Romney can suffer from this from he fact he is still quite vulnerable because of his unpopularity among conservatives maybe in Tennessee, Missouri. But I doubt it will be decisive.