Five Lessons from the Sunshine State
What we learned from the Florida primary.

Celebrating victory in Florida, January 31, 2012


Jim Geraghty

Five big lessons from Florida’s primary election results, where Mitt Romney won solidly with nearly half the vote and all 50 delegates at stake:

1) The gender gap returned with a vengeance: In the final days before the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, blindsided the candidate with the accusation that he had wanted an “open marriage.” The former speaker garnered roars of approval from a debate audience when he dressed down CNN moderator John King for starting off the evening with that topic. Some wondered whether that revelation, and the reminder of Gingrich’s three marriages, would hurt him in the contest, particularly among women.

By Saturday night, South Carolina women rejected the conventional wisdom that past marital woes would repel the fairer sex: Gingrich carried the largest share of the vote among women, with 38 percent to Romney’s 29 percent. His fans crowed that those issues had proven irrelevant in a time of runaway debt and lingering economic pain.

But subsequent general-election national polling showed a gargantuan gender gap, indicating that while South Carolina Republican women may not have had much of a problem with Gingrich, women in other states and outside the GOP did. An NBC/WSJ poll suggested that Gingrich has big problems with women, losing them 21 percent to 69 percent in a head-to-head matchup with President Obama. Rasmussen’s numbers weren’t much better — “Among women, the president leads Romney by 11 and Gingrich by 22” — and CNN showed an 18-point spread between Obama and Gingrich.

And Florida women did not warm to Gingrich as Palmetto State Republican women did: Romney won 51 percent among women, while Gingrich won 29 percent. Among men, Romney’s margin was much narrower, 41 percent to 36 percent.

The Wall Street Journal reported that, “asked by reporters on Sunday why a gender gap had appeared in recent Florida polls, Mr. Gingrich said: ‘I have no idea.’”

The “Ideas Candidate” might want to think about that.

2) The elderly abandoned Newt: Throughout the primaries, voters 65 and older have been Gingrich’s strongest demographic. Newt has won a larger share of voters in this age group than any other. He won 17 percent among this group in Iowa (second only to Romney), 14 percent in New Hampshire (third behind Romney and Jon Huntsman), and 47 percent in South Carolina (ahead by a wide margin).

Some of this may be because Gingrich is, at 69, the second oldest candidate in the field (Ron Paul is 76); some of this may be because elderly voters are most likely to remember Gingrich’s accomplishments in the mid-1990s — winning a GOP House majority, seeing budget surpluses, and reforming welfare; some of this may stem from the fact that Gingrich’s much-discussed criticism of a budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan as “right-wing social engineering” included the words, “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors.”