Romney wins Florida GOP primary, Fox News projects

 Published January 31, 2012

Romney is expected to win all 50 of Florida’s convention delegates.

Fox News also projects that Gingrich will finish second, followed by Rick Santorum in third and Ron Paul in last place.

The results mark a serious setback for the former House speaker, who trounced Romney just 10 days ago in South Carolina and was leading Romney in Florida polls as recently as last week.

With his Florida win, Romney is the only Republican candidate to have won two primaries. In a historical anomaly, the first three contests went to three different winners.

But the former House speaker is vowing a drawn-out battle for delegates as the Republican race heads next to Nevada, and then a batch of primaries in western and Midwestern states.

Asked Tuesday how close the race was to being over, Gingrich said, “I would probably say six months. I would say June or July, unless Romney drops out.”

Gingrich has held a narrow lead in most recent national polls.

But Romney began to edge him out in Florida over the past week, despite Gingrich’s come-from-behind victory in South Carolina on Jan. 21.

Gingrich, after dominating the debates in the run up to South Carolina, was more subdued on stage ahead of Florida — while Romney aggressively challenged Gingrich’s attacks on his personal wealth and his immigration position. Both campaigns, and the groups that support them, were on air with scorching attack ads in the Sunshine State.

Florida’s primary is the most valuable so far in pure numbers.

In a positive sign for Gingrich, exit polls showed evangelical voters trending for the former House speaker. The exit polls showed Gingrich with 40 percent among that group, and Romney with 36 percent.

But the margin was wider for Romney among seniors and Hispanics. Half of the seniors polled were supporting Romney, while 35 percent backed Gingrich. Santorum and Paul polled in single digits among seniors.

Romney also led Gingrich 56-29 percent among Hispanic voters, the largest minority in the state, exit polling showed.

Voters overwhelmingly went for Romney among those who said winning in November is the most important quality in a Republican nominee. But for voters who valued “true conservative” credentials as their top quality, Gingrich led with 46 percent, followed by Santorum at 26 percent and Paul at 16 percent. Among those voters, Romney was last with 11 percent.

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