Mitt Romney now gets to show that he can come back from a thumping. There was really only one question before the electorate today: Do you want Mitt Romney to be the de facto GOP nominee? The voters overwhelmingly said no.
Romney’s demographic base remains the same — upscale, highly educated whites. He carried voters with post-graduate degrees and those who earn $200,000 or more, as he has in every other race. But unlike in New Hampshire and Iowa, he decisively lost among somewhat-conservative voters to Newt Gingrich, 41–30. As I’ve written before, somewhat-conservative voters always go with the eventual nominee, and they like someone who is conservative enough and has the experience and gravitas to look presidential. That’s why Newt’s debate performances are key — he shines in those events by looking to be the man somewhat-conservative voters want.
Florida will be a tougher road for Newt. The state is more moderate, less distinctively southern, less evangelical. It also has a culture of early voting — hundreds of thousands of Floridians have already voted in the January 31 primary. But it is also the only state where Latinos cast a significant percentage of the vote in the GOP primary, about 12 percent in 2008. Then, Romney got clobbered 50–16 by John McCain. Newt has started to run ads on Spanish stations in Miami alleging Romney is anti-immigrant, and Newt’s notably more compassionate line towards illegal immigrants who have lived in the country for a long time might pay pay dividends here.