Sources: Networks to call Romney winner at 8 pm…landslide

Romney takes early lead over Gingrich in Florida presidential primary

 Published January 31, 2012

The Florida contest is the fourth so far in the Republican presidential nominating season and will inevitably serve as a tie-breaker of sorts after three distinct candidates won the first three elections. Sanoturm and Paul are also in the race, but did not compete in Florida.

Florida’s primary is also the most valuable so far in pure numbers, with 50 convention delegates on the table.

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.

Both candidates are looking to reclaim the momentum in Tuesday’s contest, though recent polls have shown Romney pulling well ahead in Florida.

Should the former Massachusetts governor emerge the victor Tuesday night, he will be the only candidate to have won two contests — having won the New Hampshire primary earlier this month. Santorum won the Iowa caucuses and Gingrich resurrected his campaign on Jan. 21 by dominating the South Carolina primary.

But with the race heading next to Nevada and other states, Gingrich said Tuesday he expects a drawn-out battle.

Asked 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.”

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