Four years after losing to John McCain in Florida, Mitt Romney reveled in a double-digit victory over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Tuesday night, locking down a trove of 50 delegates that could help pave his way to the Republican nomination.
“Thank you tonight for this great victory,” the former Massachusetts governor said, taking the stage less than a half hour after the last polls closed in Florida. In a nod to the fact that the Republican race may not be wrapped up for several months, he congratulated his three other “serious and able competitors” after “another hard-fought contest.”
“As this primary unfolds our opponents in the other party have been watching and they like to comfort themselves with the thought that a competitive campaign will leave us divided and weak,” Romney said. “But I’ve got news for them, a competitive primary does not divide us, it prepares us and we will win.”
“When we gather back here in Tampa seven months from now for our convention, ours will be a united party with a winning ticket for America.”
Long before he took the stage after an introduction by his wife, Ann, who was flanked by four of the couple’s five sons, several hundred supporters filled a ballroom at the Tampa Convention Center chanting “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!” whenever the Fox News Channel broadcast live from Romney’s election night party. When Fox called the race for Romney at 8 p.m., the crowd erupted into cheers while waving dozens of handkerchief-sized American flags. By that point, with just a fifth of the poll results counted, Romney was leading Gingrich by about 20 points.
After a week in which he had relentlessly hammered rival Newt Gingrich, Romney barely mentioned his GOP rival, keeping his focus on President Obama, who reported Tuesday that he had raised nearly $68 million during the last quarter of 2011 to prepare for the general election battle. Romney touted his private sector career – noting that he helped build a business from scratch – as well as his leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics, while blasting Obama for presiding over 35 months of unemployment.
“Mr. President you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it’s time for you to get out of the way,” Romney said, as the crowd roared. “I stand ready to lead this party and to lead our nation.”
Romney argued that a victory in November would usher in “a new era of American prosperity.”
“Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!” the crowd chanted.
“This campaign is about more than replacing a president, it is about saving the soul of America,” he said. “Together we will build an America where hope is a new job with a paycheck, not a faded word on an old bumper sticker.”
Speaking to reporters earlier on Tuesday at his headquarters a short distance from his election night party, Romney had already turned his focus to the contests ahead this week, arguing that the Florida results would show which candidate was best equipped to take on Obama in November.
“Doing well in Florida is a pretty good indication of your prospects nationally,” he told reporters. “I’m hoping that as I go to Nevada and Minnesota and Missouri and Colorado and Arizona -- and the list goes on and on -- that I’ll be able to get a lot of support in part because of the response here of people in Florida.”