What stands out most to me looking at the results from Florida is the growing North/South divide among self-identified conservatives. Strong conservatives and Tea Partiers overwhelmingly backed Romney in New Hampshire and Gingrich in South Carolina, and split in Iowa and Florida. And the Florida split broke down depending on geography — the culturally southern panhandle backed Gingrich, while the culturally northern peninsula backed Romney.
The implication is that voters’ views of these two candidates are being strongly determined not just in terms of ideology, but also in terms of geography. Moderates — North and South — are going for Romney. Conservatives are splitting depending on where they live.
This is bad news for Gingrich because he just lost winner-take-all Florida and is not on the ballot in Virginia. It is hard to be a victorious southern candidate when you lose two of the eleven states to the northerner.
In Florida, the anti-Gingrich vote swelled in the final days.
Women began to avoid Newt in large numbers: Romney beat Gingrich by an astounding 22-point margin among women, compared with just five percentage points among men.
Among wives, the avoidance of Gingrich was even more marked: Married women went for Romney 51 to 28 percent for Gingrich, while their husbands split almost evenly — 37 percent for Romney versus 35 percent for Newt.
Forty-one percent of Florida primary voters view Gingrich unfavorably, compared with 21 percent who see Romney unfavorably.
Yes, Romney outspent Gingrich on negative ads. But he also outspent Gingrich in South Carolina on negative ads.
And in Florida, the Democrats piled on Romney, as the Orlando Sentinelpointed out:
The Democrats are targeting Mitt Romney as if he were already the Republican nominee running against President Barack Obama, with campaign ads, Internet videos, daily news conferences and dozens of news releases attacking the former Massachusetts governor.
Traditional Democratic partners are jumping in, too. Both the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ and Service Employees International Union’s political-action committees are running their own TV commercials in Florida this week – attacking Romney.
(Hmm, could the anti-Holocaust kosher food robo-call be a Dem dirty trick?)
Gingrich’s poor performance in the two big debates did him no favors, but I’m guessing it was Newt’s response to his subpar performance that sealed his fate — his petulant, whiny, personal complaints in the aftermath of the debate (i.e., They did not give me an audience. They gave me the wrong audience. I won’t debate Obama at all if journalists moderate. It’s Romney fault for lying about me). It sounded more like a tantrum than a campaign.
And Florida voters ended up agreeing with Mitt that we can’t take the risk on Gingrich.
— Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist.