Mitt Romney took a big step towards securing the nomination with his 14-point victory over Newt Gingrich. The victory comes as the candidates head into a murky February in which a few caucuses here and there, and only one debate, will make for some difficult choices for the Gingrich campaign. Romney has the funds and organization to compete everywhere, but Gingrich does not. Additionally, Nevada is a state in which 25% of the electroate is Mormon and which Romney carried last time. Gingrich's challenge is the same that faced Hillary Clinton in 2008 the morning after Super Tuesday. Her campaign had planned on locking up the nomination on that day and, when they didn't, they had no plan for the many caucuses that followed and in which Barack Obama ran the table, building up a lead in delegates that carried him through to the end. Gingrich either needs to pick one February contest and try to win, or cede the month to Romney and focus on a strong showing on Super Tuesday in early March. The problem with the latter strategy is obvious: Romney's advantage in money and organization is designed to win on multi-state primary days.
If conservative leaders really want to stop Romney, they need to convince Santorum to get out of the race. He shows no inclination to do so, but as long as he and Gingrich are splitting the conservative vote, Romney can keep winning plurality victories. If you combine Gingrich's and Santorum's vote in Florida yesterday, it matches Romney's total.
I would not make too much of the fact that Romney won the Latino vote in Florida. Most Latinos in Florida, though not all, are Cubans and Puerto Ricans, for whom immigration may be an issue but it is not an existential one. Puerto Ricans are citizens and Cubans get special treatment under U.S. immigration law. Romney's harsh anti-immigrant stance will not help him in New Mexico, Colorado or Nevada in the general election, which is where Latinos will be decisive.
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The most interesting data from the exit polls was that 6 in 10 Romney voters said they would not be happy with Gingrich as the nominee and more than half of Gingrich's voters said the same about Romney. Yes, once there is a nominee and the general election becomes a binary choice between either of these men and President Obama, the base is likely to rally. But, some may conclude that the better part of political purity requires that they issue a plague on both houses, and they go fishing on election day.
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