So what is at stake in today’s Florida GOP primary?
The conventional wisdom says that if Romney wins by a solid margin tonight, he has practically sealed the nomination.
For Gingrich a bad Florida loss means fundraising will become difficult. More Republicans and conservatives will pressure him to drop out. The media will begin to treat Romney as the nominee.
But, if you look at the delegate count alone, we’re still barely into the first inning of this contest. You need to have the votes of 1144 delegates at the Republican convention in Florida this summer to win. Currently, Gingrich has won 23 delegates. Mitt Romney may have as many as 21, Ron Paul may have a surprising amount from Iowa – though that is currently unknowable.
Florida awards 50 delegates. Currently the Florida GOP intends to award them all to the winner.
In any case, Gingrich has fallen such a long way in Florida so quickly that it would be hard to portray any losing result for him as a moral victory. Some polls from two weeks ago had Gingrich up by 6 or 8 per cent.
Conn Carroll of the Washington Examiner points out that Romney is winning most of the key demographic groups.
Like his win in New Hampshire, the Marist poll shows Romney winning households making $75,000 or more (49-27) and those making less than $75,000 (37-28). He is winning both the college graduate vote (44-25) and the non-college graduate vote (40-29). He is winning among Evangelicals (34-28), in the Panhandle (37-25), in central Florida (44-30), and in south Florida (49-31). Romney even wins among conservatives (47-28) and moderate Tea Party supporters (39-32). The only groups Romney loses are “strong Tea Party supporters” (27-40) and “very conservative” Republicans (24-36).[Emphasis mine]
If Gingrich isn’t winning conservatives and Tea Partiers, it will be very difficult for him to explain the rationale of his candidacy after tonight.
Polls show that even if Rick Santorum drops out, Gingrich fares no better against Romney.
So if we believe the polls, and Romney gets a double-digit victory tonight, it’s all over but the shouting.
In other notes, Ron Paul has conceded Florida, a winner-take-all contest, and will be campaigning in Nevada today. While Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum try to explain why they should even continue, Paul is hoping to snatch up delegates this weekend at the Maine caucuses.
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