Well, that was quick. Polls closed in Florida at 8pm (noon AEST), and CNN declared victory for Mitt Romney at 8.30pm, with Romney polling at 47% to Gingrich 31%, or 550,00 with 365,000 after nearly 60% of the votes having been counted.
Indeed, most polls had closed at 7pm, but the doofus arrangement of having the panhandle on a different time zone meant there was an hour extra to nail it down in the boondocks.
That, plus early voting — as many as 35% of the votes had been cast in the week previous — plus the reliance on voting machines meant that it could all be wrapped up pretty quickly.
Rick Santorum came in third with 13%, and Ron Paul was in the caboose with 7%, both very much expected results.
So too in recent days was the Gingrich collapse — although few forecast that Romney would scale the heights of the high 40s (a result that may come back as the southern-based panhandle votes come back in).
Given Florida’s status as a mini-sampler of America at large, this is all bad news for Gingrich. The state itself is far less conservative than its almost neighbour South Carolina — only about 30% of Republicans cast themselves as “very conservative” here, and many would be northern in their thinking, and attracted to Romney’s deathful plastic CEO imagery.
Neither Romney nor Gingrich have spoken yet, and Gingrich may not, but if he does he will blame the elites and the media and the outspending. He will be right on that, of course — the outspending by the official campaigns here is five-to-one.
The unofficial spend, including the “hands-off” ha, ha, ha SuperPACS, must be approaching 12 to one. Romney ads crowded TV, slating him for being a liar — about his closeness to Ronald Reagan — a disaster — as speaker in the ’90s — a man handed out for ethics violations (not really true), and a consultant to Freddie Mac, in a state where 30-50% of mortgages are in negative equity.
Nevertheless, Gingrich would have been more competitive had he not so wholly stuffed up the debates, after his strong showing in South Carolina. Having staked his claim by attacking the media, and then roaring out his big America message, he prepared for the Florida debates by — we are told — taking a couple of naps and thinking it through himself.
Romney, by contrast, hired the best debate coach around, and tightened up his act, coming out as punchy, focused, and not a giggling New England frat boy. Going on the attack, and showing that Gingrich had investments in Freddie Mac — the pot kettleness of all this is off the scale; a hue darker than black is required to characterise it — gave him a win.
Newt’s mad talk of going to the moon, and making it a state — you can see him lying in a hammock, thinking it through, pleased with the elegance of it — did the rest.
There has also been a delayed effect from the tell-all interview by his second wife before the South Cal vote, in which general bastardry was, believably, alleged.
Consequently, Gingrich has lost a lot of groups. He appears to have lost the Tea Party vote — only 40% of identified Tea Partiers supported him, being drawn back into the general Republican maw — but he also lost evangelicals.
Above all he lost women — the polling gap between men and women for Gingrich is about 55% to 29%. Should that have done him over, then Marianne Gingrich has had a revenge not so much served cold as chilled to Bose-Einstein condensation level. Every relationship has one or two screws left over, and Marianne Gingrich just got hers in.
Can Gingrich come back? He is en route to Nevada, where his main backer, hyper-Zionist casino developer Sheldon Adelson lives. He wants Newt in the race to the end. So does Newt.
But by now the GOP establishment will be leaking against him — even at the cost of Republican image. I would expect a) Newt to power on, and b) a new uber-scandal about him to hit in a week or two.
Now Romney’s about to speak. So I am off to The Dollhouse Lounge next door, where it is also amateur night, and they are at least enthusiastic …