Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney Tuesday achieved a solid victory in the Florida primary, with double-digit lead over closest rival Newt Gingrich.
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands with a little girl after a campaign in Gilbert, South Carolina, Jan. 20, 2012. [Xinhua File Photo]
With more than 95 percent of precincts reporting, the former Massachusetts governor won 46 percent of the vote, followed by Gingrich, the former House speaker, with 32 percent, according to major U.S. broadcasting networks including Fox News, MSNBC and CNN.
Romney's win was well expected as a spade of polls conducted over the last few days showed he was enjoying wide lead over the rest of the field.
The former governor had been an underdog in this race after suffering a body blow in the South Carolina primary ten days ago, trailing the former speaker by up to ten points in the Sunshine State polls. But he turned in a major rebound in the final days into the contest with strong debate performances and heavy ads buying primarily targeting Gingrich.
Among the other competitors in the field, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum got 13 percent of the vote, with Texas congressman Ron Paul at the bottom with 7 percent.
"As this primary unfolds, our opponents in the other party have been watching, and they like to comfort themselves with the thought that a competitive campaign will leave us divided and weak," Romney spoke to his supporters at his headquarters in Tampa, Florida, Tuesday night, referring to the increasingly negative campaigns he and his GOP fellows have been undertaking.
There have been concerns that those personal attacks would damage the eventual GOP nominee and benefit President Barack Obama.
"But I've got news for them. A competitive primary does not divide us. It prepares us, and we will win," he said.
Romney's overwhelming win in Florida dealt a major blow to Gingrich's effort to establish himself as the competitive non-Romney candidate. Still, the former speaker vowed to fight all the way to party convention in Tampa, Florida, in August.
"This will be a two-person race between the conservative leader Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate," Gingrich told supporters in Orlando, Florida. "We're going to have people power defeat money power in the next six months."
The former speaker has been accusing Romney of buying the election with his unparalleled wealth and campaign funds.
"We are going to contest every place and we are going to win," he declared. "We will in Tampa as the nominee in August."
With the first three nominating contests won by three different candidates -- Iowa by Santorum, New Hampshire by Romney, and South Carolina by Gingrich, Florida was seen as a pivotal battleground as it would serve as a tie breaker and add some clarity to the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
The Florida primary is hugely important also in that with a population outnumbering the combination of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Florida has the largest Republican electorate of the early contests and its winner will take all its 50 delegates.