Live Blogging the Florida Primary

7:00 We are on, as polls close across most of the state.  If the Drudge report is correct, this is going to be an early night.  He has leaked early exit polls showing Romney up 49%-33% over Gingrich.  If that holds, it will be a good night for Romney, and will refuel the early speculation that this will clinch the deal for Romney.  I don’t think this will knockout Gingrich, but it reaffirms that Romney is in the driver’s seat.

So, where did Romney get the extra votes?  From Paul.  Remember, Paul abandoned Florida relatively early, and he typically draws from Romney’s coalition.  If Drudge is to be believe, Paul is getting only 6% here – far less than the 10% I thought he might get.  Santorum is also down, at about 11%.  Polling suggested about half of his support chose Romney as their second pick.  Evidently the electability issue drove the defections from both Paul and Santorum to Romney.  Gingrich, on the other hand, is about right where I thought he’d be.  Again, all this is based on leaked exit polls so…. .

Inevitably this outcome will raise questions regarding whether Romney has clinched the deal.  Keep two factors in mind.  First, Santorum is going to finish a very distant third here, despite what most observers thought were two solid debate performances.  He has to consider whether it is worth continuing.  Second, Florida newspapers are evidently running stories that there may be a challenge to the winner-take-all delegate allocation provisions governing Florida.  If Gingrich/Santorum win this challenge then that blunts some of Romney’s delegate haul.  Also, we need to see whether Romney is able to expand his support among the Tea Party/conservative wing of the Republican party.

The problem for Gingrich is that it’s not clear he has the money to run a national campaign, compared to Romney.  In Florida alone Romney outspent Gingrich by 5 to 1, and the full brunt of the Republican establishment was brought to bear on Mitt’s behalf.

By the way, we are watching CNN tonight while scanning the various online sites.  Note that the CNN vote totals are probably overstating Romney’s support just a bit, since much of the early counting is of the early votes which went disproportionally for Mitt.  As today’s votes are counted, I expect the race to tighten by a couple of percentage points.

Keep in mind that the punditocracy will overreact to today’s results – don’t get caught up in the instant analysis.

I do expect this to be called exactly at 8, as soon as the panhandle finishes voting.  At that point we should be able to get some exit poll data.

I teased some of the exit poll issues of interest tonight in terms of seeing whether Romney can expand his coalition.  Another issue will be turnout – numbers have been up a bit in the Republican contests so far compared to 2008. Will that hold in Florida?

Of course, the Romney people will try to spin this as a knockout blow. Keep in mind, however, that in 2008 when he finished second with about the same vote percentage that Gingrich is going to get here, Romney stayed in the race.  I expect Gingrich to do the same.

I am interested to see what Newt’s demeanor will be when he makes his concession speech.  Mitt really personalized his attacks this time by trying to portray Newt as unstable, erratic, and prone to emotional outbursts.  Newt can’t be a happy guy.  This was an out-and-out thrashing on a personal level.

One of the tenets adopted by the punditocracy is that February will be a tough month for Gingrich because there are no real contests and few debates.  Although that’s true, it also gives him a chance to raise money and try to organize a campaign presence in some of the upcoming states.  Remember, the next two primaries are not until February 28, in Arizona and Michigan, followed by the March 6 super Tuesday.  Romney should do well in Michigan and probably in Arizona.  But superTuesday will be interesting – Newt should run strong in at least three states  – Tennessee, Georgia and Oklahoma.  Note, however, that at this point won’t be on the ballot in Virginia.

CNN is ready to call this for Mitt.

8 p.m. And they do.  Let’s see what the exit polls say.

Note that one danger Mitt has to be concerned about is raising expectations too high.  Note that Paul is going to run strong in caucuses (how is he doing in Maine, Chris?) – he’s going to be fighting with Mitt for the same voters.

Similarly, Santorum is already out in Colorado.  Can he organize enough to win some votes there?

Ok, some exit polls results:  Romney benefited from a huge gender gap.  He won  51-29% among woman!  He also won Latinos by 53-30%.  Romney won all age groups, but his support increased in linear fashion as we go up the age bracket.  Romney cleaned up in the highest income bracket, winning more than 60% of the over $200,000 income bracket.

However, (and CNN really is not getting this story right), among strong Tea Party supporters (35% of the vote) Gingrich held strong, winning 46-33%.  Mitt is still not closing this deal.  Newt also won the 40% of voters who are evangelicals by 36-33%.

Based on exit polls the Florida voters both rated Newt and Mitt about equally in terms of where they were located ideologically on the issues.  That is, they said they were located “about right” on the issues.

Romney, by a slight percentage, 35-33%, was seen as running the most unfair campaign, with Gingrich just behind.  Fully 92% of the campaign ads were negative, according to one headline I saw.

Apparently Romney is getting ready to come on stage.  It will be interesting to what tone he takes. By almost 2-1, Romney was viewed as more likely to beat Obama.  It will be interesting to see how Newt’s loss affects his national standing where he is running about neck and neck with Romney in many polls.

Note that Mitt did much better among those who voted earlier – among those who made up their mind in the last few days, he led Gingrich by 8%, but for those who voted earlier or who made up their mind earlier, he did much better 51-34%.  An interesting dynamic at play there.  similarly, among the 72% who said the ads influenced their vote, Mitt cleaned up at 52-29.  But Gingrich actually ran even with Mitt among the 26% who said the ads made no difference.

Mitt is on. Let’s listen.

Not surprisingly, after the obligatory shoutout to his unnamed opponents, he’s back to front-runner Romney by focusing on Obama.  Good strategy.

(as expected, Newt’s strongest regional showing came in the Florida panhandle, where he ran even with Mitt).  Otherwise it was Mitt’s night.  Interestingly, Mitt did almost as well in rural areas as he did in suburbs and urban areas. )

What was that crack about the faculty lounge?  A shot at Newt?

Results are trending a bit closer to my 8% projection – I’m feeling not quite so bad!  Looks like Paul supporters threw their lot to Mitt – I thought they were going to be more fanatical than that.  Otherwise the vote is turning out pretty much as I anticipated.

Wow.  I’m not sure I anticipated how quickly he turned back into front-runner mode!  The guy’s won two primaries.

Wonder how Newt might respond?

Best exit poll finding of the night: among the 28% who said they are falling behind, they split their vote between gingrich and romney.  Of the 12% who are getting ahead, romney wins going away 52-25%

By the way, for those of you on twitter, I’m posting at MattDickinson44.   (Against my better judgment, by the way.  I promise not to tweet about my food choices at dinner.)

It’s up to Newt to make this evening end on an interesting note.  I want to see a rip-snorting campaign speech.  He needs to channel his inner John Paul Jones.

I haven’t written much about Rick’s performance, but right now he doesn’t sound like a man who is reconsidering his candidacy.  I think he’s going to hang in through the caucuses, hoping that the intensity of his supporters’ feelings motivates them to show up.

Rick is on CNN now making his post-florida speech.  He’s taking the high road here, praising both Mitt and Newt and promising not to engage in mud-slinging.   But is he going to be able to raise money?  Probably not enough to compete outside of caucus states.  But he’s probably going to hang in through this month, and hope he can get a victory or at least enough coverage to generate some publicity.

Interestingly, while Mitt won those who voted primarily on the basis of electability,  Newt won among voters looking for either a) experience, or b) true conservative.  But Newt got crushed by Mitt among those voting on the basis of “strong moral character”.

OK, Newt is on.  Let’s see which Newt it is!   By the way, he can’t use the Rocky theme anymore – he was going to get sued.

Translation:  Get out Rick!

Old Newt back – bashing the Massachusett moderate, and the liberal elite media.  How many lives does he have left?  He’s clearly going to wrap himself in the populist mantle, and try to portray Mitt as an elitist.  I think that’s probably the best strategy he can adopt. Whether it will work remains to be seen.

The first Capitol Steps program?  Is that the comedy review?

Why he didn’t run on his record building the Republican party earlier is beyond me.  Notice no mention of Romney as yet.  Not even a congratulation.  I  don’t think he likes Mitt very much.  Then again, there’s not a lot of people who like Newt.

This is an interesting speech.  I think he’s trying to combat Mitt’s electability advantage by trying to get people to think of him as president.

This is the feisty Newt who went awol in Florida.  I have to think some of it was exhaustion.  One thing that defeat does is force campaign’s to revise their strategy.  Newt is retooling as he speaks.  But can he stay focused, and on message?  History says no.

One thing that might help him survive February is to get some of that Rick Perry money.

Quick: where did that last quote come from?   yep, the Declaration of Independence.  That’s grandiose Newt.

Not sure how effective that speech was – while I think the positioning as the anti-establishment populist will play well with the Tea party, the hints of grandiosity are what makes other voters less likely to support him.  Ultimately, Newt can’t win this by relying on the Tea party alone.

Ok, Ron is hanging out with the showgirls and playing the slots in Vegas.  Let’s see what he says, and whether he can keep it short.  Or will we get a lecture on currency trading?

Ron’s threat to Mitt: we’ll see you soon in the caucus states!  Maine, Colorado, and Nevada.  Remember, Paul can turn them out in the caucus states.

You have to admire a guy who, at his age, still gets so enthusiastic when he talks about LIBERTY!  there’s nothing phony about this guy.

who are the kids in suits behind him?  Notice his stage is filled with young people.

We want our freedoms back – we don’t want more government!

Ok, where do things stand?  The results tonight will certainly lead the Republican establishment to renew their efforts to get Republicans to rally behind Mitt.  And while it is true that this was always Mitt’s state to lose, the fact is he did not lose it – in fact he brought everything to bear in a concerted effort to drive Newt from the race.  I thought Mitt’s debate performances, while not flawless, at least reflected a strategy designed to crush his primary opposition.  Make no mistake about, tonight’s decisive win validated that strategy.  The biggest surprise (to me) tonight is how much Paul underperformed, presumably because about 5% of his support went to Mitt.  But, in the end, tonight also shows that Mitt has not closed the deal with the Tea Party/conservative wing of the party.  And that means if Gingrich stays in, he is going to win a significant chunk of delegates – not enough to take the lead, but enough to prevent Romney from closing this out.  And that’s even if Santorum stays in the race.

What helped Romney tonight was his support among Hispanics….that was a surprise to me.

OK, I’ll be watching the post-Florida spin with the obligatory celebratory scotch.  Couple of things to keep in mind: the pundits will push the “race is over” theme tomorrow quite heavily. Don’t be fooled – this is a decisive Romney victory, but it is not unexpected, and it doesn’t really change the overall dynamics of the race, although it will change the media narrative still again.

One other thing: by my rough estimate, turnout is actually down a bit from 2008.  Not the best sign for Mitt, particularly when turnout broke records when Newt won in South Carolina.  I’ll run the numbers in a bit.

@Chris who wants to play the VP game.  I have to think Rick Perry is VP material, if for no other reason than he brings money, organization and Texas into play.  Although Texas is likely solidly Republican anyway.

Turnout in 2008 for the Republican primary was 1.9 million.  Tonight appears closer to 1.7 million (that’s a rough guessestimate).  So Mitt didn’t excite the base here.

Talking heads are playing up Newt’s lack of graciousness in not congratulating Mitt.  I addressed this earlier – I think the explanation is simple: Newt is pissed at the personal nature of Mitt’s attacks on him.  The gloves are off on both sides.

Ok, I have to write a short piece for U.S. News tomorrow regarding this question: is Newt hurting or helping Republicans by staying in this race?  Thoughts?

I have said all along that an extended race will make Romney a stronger nominee because it gives him a chance to respond to attacks on his record, it strengthens his debating skills, and it generally exposes him to the types of attacks he’s going to get from Democrats.   But that assumes he wins the nomination!  Strictly speaking, of course,  Gingrich staying in the race doesn’t help Romney because it prevents him from cinching the deal.  But my assumption is whoever the winner is, he benefits from enduring the gauntlet that is an extended nomination process.

Ok, with 95% of the vote in, it looks like Romney is going to take this by about 46%-32%, with Santorum at 13% and Paul at 7% .  As I noted above, Romney is doing about 5% better than I anticipated, and Paul about 3% less. I pretty much nailed Gingrich and Santorum’s totals.  I have to think that some of the expected Paul voters went to their second choice Romney in a state that Paul did not contest. Otherwise no real surprises tonight.

I’ll be on tomorrow with an update on the final vote returns and an analysis of the talking heads.  Looks like the election news will slow for a bit as the candidates regroup.  But keep in mind the Nevada caucuses on Saturday and then the Super Bowl on Sunday.  I’ll have my projections for both…… .




  1. Yes it is Chris. I’m assuming that without much suspense regarding the outcome, people are laying low.

  2. won Latinos by 53-30%

    That is impressive, what percentage of the primary voters were hispanic? Why any, except Cubans, would vote for such an immigration hardliner is beyond me.

  3. R- they were about 14% of the exit polls. I addressed this point in an earlier post. The short answer is that Cuban hispanics get a path to citizenship just by making it to Florida’s shore, and Puerto Ricans have citizenship as well. so the illegal immigration issue isn’t quite as pertinent here as it will be out west.

  4. Yes, Ron Paul is doing very well here in Maine. He was in Bangor, Waterville, Auburn/Lewiston, Portland, and another town in Southern Maine this past weekend. Those are the main population centers of the state. I haven’t seen any polls for Maine though. I would say that Paul will be much better than his usual 10-12%

    One thing that is very interesting and I’m not exactly sure how the pundits will spin it is that Caucuses start on the 4th and go to the 11th. There is only going to be a straw poll for results on the 11th. The delegates are voted from each individual caucus and are non-binding and they go to a state convention sometime much later in spring. I’m guessing that the straw poll results (that will be announced on Saturday the 11th around 7pm) will tell who “won” Maine.

  5. So, I just looked for polls and couldn’t find any for Maine or Nevada. I did find 1 from Missouri and Ohio – they all show Santorum doing MUCH MUCH better than he has. What can we make of that?

  6. What was that crack about the faculty lounge? A shot at Newt?

    No, I’m afraid it is a cut at your and I…and Obama. The ivory tower is not in such high regard, especially among Republicans.

  7. Chris – It’s going to be tough to poll caucus states, particularly one like Maine that has the first stage take place over several days.

  8. But, lets thank GOD for the healing of my daughter – forget the doctors, the medication, the hospital – it was a miricle. ERRR….

  9. Now Chris….God may have been working through their hands. Remember, while a northeastern secular humanist may grit his teeth, the majority of Repulicans voters empathize with Rick’s statement.

  10. Apparently, Mitt would have to get 100% of the delegates between now and April 5 to lock up nomination (does that include April 5?). So, it looks like June 5, that is when Obama prevailed over Hillary, right? Does it matter?

    I’m ready for Newt.

  11. So, those that are extreme conservatives what do they do if Romney is nominated? I’m guessing they don’t vote for Obama. Aren’t they going to vote RED no matter what?

  12. What about the fact that Florida as the first place that he has significantly improved upon his 2008 showing?

  13. Chris – Yes, don’t underestimate the significance of this victory. but the reason he expanded over 2008 is that McCain and Giuliani – two moderates – aren’t in the race. He basically absorbed their voters, but not all of them, and he clearly didn’t win over the conservatives.

  14. So as we listen to the pundits speak, perhaps we could speculate on who Romney/Gingrich would choose for VP. Do they team up for “super ticket?” Does Romney go with a Perry and Gingrich with a minority? Thoughts?

  15. That was my thought exactly. I can see a Romney/Perry ticket. For Gingrich, I’m not really sure. He needs a moderate or maybe a woman? I just can’t see many moderates fooled by him going that direction.

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