TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Mitt Romney routed Newt Gingrich in the Florida primary Tuesday night, rebounding smartly from an earlier defeat and taking a major step toward the Republican presidential nomination. In defeat, the former House speaker vowed to press on.
Romney, talking unity like a nominee, said he was ready “to lead this party and our nation” — and turn Democratic President Barack Obama out of office. In remarks to cheering supporters, the former Massachusetts governor unleashed a strong attack on Obama and said the competitive fight for the GOP nomination “does not divide us, it prepares us” for the fall.
“Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it’s time to get out of the way,: he declared.
Returns from slightly more than half of Florida’s precincts showed Romney with 47 percent of the vote, to 33 percent for Gingrich.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had 13 percent, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul 7 percent. Neither mounted a substantial effort in the state.
The winner-take-all primary was worth 50 Republican National Convention delegates, by far the most of any primary state so far.
But the bigger prize was precious political momentum in the race to pick an opponent for Obama in a nation struggling to recover from the deepest recession in decades.
That belonged to Romney when he captured the New Hampshire primary three weeks ago, then swung stunningly to Gingrich when he countered with a South Carolina upset 11 days later.
Now it was back with the former Massachusetts governor, after a 10-day comeback that marked a change to more aggressive tactics, coupled with an efficient use of an overwhelming financial advantage to batter Gingrich in television commercials over a 10-day campaign.
Mitt Romney’s victory in the Florida Republican presidential primary gives him more than three times as many convention delegates as his closet rival, Newt Gingrich.
Romney won all 50 delegates in Florida, giving him a total of 87, including endorsements from Republican National Committee members who will automatically attend the convention. Gingrich has 26 delegates, Rick Santorum has 14 and Ron Paul has four.
The race for delegates is still in the early stages. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the nomination.
Next up: Nevada, which has 28 delegates at stake in it caucuses on Saturday. Nevada Republicans award delegates proportionally, making it impossible for any candidate to win them all.