Mitt Romney reestablished his frontrunner's status on Tuesday, that was shaken after his South Carolina loss to Newt Gingrich. Florida voters, said to be the microcosm of America, or "5 states in one," apparently chose electability over conservative principles.
Romney beat his closest rival Newt Gingrich by a comfortable margin to win the Florida Republican presidential primary, television networks projected.
Former U.S. senator Rick Santorum was in third with 13 percent and Representative Ron Paul was fourth with 7 percent, the networks reported.
In a speech to an enthralled crowd of supporters, Romney thanked Floridians and turned his attacks from his main competitor to President Barack Obama.
“Three years ago this week, a newly elected President Obama faced the American people and said that if he couldn’t turn the economy around in three years, he’d be looking at a one-term proposition. We’re here to collect,” he said.
“Since then, we’ve had 35 months of unemployment over 8 percent. Under this president, Americans have seen more job losses and more home foreclosures than under any president in modern history.”
"Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it’s time for you to get out of the way!”
“This campaign is about more than replacing a president. It is about saving the soul of America. President Obama and I have two very different visions of America,” Romney continued.
“President Obama’s view of capitalism is to send your money to his friends’ companies. My vision for free enterprise is to return entrepreneurship to the genius and creativity of the American people.”
“President Obama has adopted a strategy of appeasement and apology. I will stand with our friends and speak out for those seeking freedom.”
Newt Gingrich also thanked the people of Florida saying "everyone here has been very positive."
He contrasted himself with Romney, saying the race is down to two candidates “a conservative leader and Massachusetts liberal."
"We are going to contest every place and we are going to be a nominee in Tampa in August," the former speaker said.
Once again, Gingrich warned that Barack Obama's reelection "will be a disaster."
"We have a better future for you," he said.
Towards the end of his speech, Gingrich reiterated his promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"Before we go to the inaugural balls, I will tell the State Department to open an embassy in Jerusalem and recognize Israel."
Rep. Ron Paul held his speech in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was booed by his own supporters when he told them he had called Romney to congratulate him.
Paul said that were the elections won on excitement, he and his supporters would win big.
He finished his speech with a call for action: "We want our freedoms back, we don’t want big government."
According to early exit polls, just 1 percent of voters in Tuesday's Republican primary identified as Jewish. That's down from 3 percent in the Florida Republican primary in 2008, the New York Times reported.
Jim Wilson, a Florida member of Vets for Romney tells Haaretz he has been following Romney since the primaries began.
"I am spending my grandchildren's money to help save this country," he said. "I will follow him with truck with Romney's signs until the nomination back here in August."
Florida is the largest nominating contest so far in the state-by-state battle to pick a Republican to face Democratic U.S. President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election.
Romney's supporters at the Conventions Center in Tampa reacted with excitement to the projections that he is the winner in Florida Republican primaries.
But despite the fact that Florida is only the fourth state to vote in the Republican primaries (Newt Gingrich's campaign made a special point out of it, with sign at his Orlando party reminding: "46 states to go"), Democrats are following the results closely - surely annoyingly closely for the Republicans. DNC Chair and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, for example, commented tonight on Romney's results at the very entrance to Tampa Conventions center, where Mitt Romney planned to celebrate his victory.
Wasserman Schultz told Haaretz: "I've been spending some time chasing the Republican candidates around the country, because I am not going to let them get away on my watch as DNC Chairman with distorting and lying about President's credit, and I think voters need to know there is a dramatic contrast and a clear choice between a president who's fought for the middle class and got tax breaks for 95 percent of Americans, who will fight to protect Medicare and Social Security versus Mitt Romney, that will take care of those who are doing well already, and to hell with the middle class."
I am not surprised, she said, the Republicans have no idea who or what Mitt Romney stands for, "because he was willing to say anything to get elected. In Iowa he says he'll veto the DREAM act, but in Florida he says he'll support some version of it. He consistently said he'd let the housing market hit the rock bottom, and not do anything to let people stay in their homes. He spoke in other states about Medicaid as we know it - and had the nerve to stand and tell seniors in Florida that he'll protect Medicare and Social Security."
So, is she attacking only Romney because Gingrich's victory is better for Democrats?
"They are really interchangeable", she said. "They are trying to out-right-wing each other. They are all extreme".
She said the "overwhelming majority of Jews in Florida and over the country will support President Obama. because we care about domestic policy, healthcare, education, we stand for people who have no voice, and the Republicans don't agree with the Jewish community on any of those issues. And on Israel, Israeli leadership has repeatedly said that President Obama has been Israel's greatest friend."
The next contest is the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, followed next Tuesday by caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a primary in Missouri.
Analysts said the double digit victory in Florida cements Romney's status as front-runner in the race.The win also demonstrated Romney's ability to compete strongly in a major political battleground state with a broad voter base that includes a diverse electorate including Tea Party conservatives, evangelical Christians and Cuban-Americans.
Romney spent millions of dollars in Florida with a barrage of negative ads that focused on Gingrich's ethics violations when he was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1990s.
According to exit polls by CBS, 62 percent of the Republican voters said the economy was the most important issue to them. Romney has campaigned hard saying he is best placed to fix the economy based on his experience as a businessman.
"(Romney's) a businessman. He knows how to make money. If he makes promises, he'll keep them," said Frank Lobue, a retired utility company employee, who voted in St. Petersburg.
Voters also said in exit polls that they were very concerned about picking a candidate who could beat Obama.
The campaign now moves on to states that may play to Romney's strengths, particularly on Feb. 4 in Nevada, which has a large population of people who share Romney's Mormon faith, and on Feb. 28 in Michigan, where his father was governor.
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