- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reclaimed the top spot in the Republican presidential race with a decisive victory in Tuesday’s Florida primary, making him the first candidate to notch two wins and putting him on solid ground heading into the part of the campaign calendar that fits his strengths as a candidate.

News networks called the state for Mr. Romney immediately after the polls closed, and the only suspense as the night wore on was whether Mr. Romney could break 50 percent of the vote, which it turned out he did not.

With 98 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Romney had 46 percent to 32 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas trailed, with 13 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

“Thank you to the people in this room and the people all over Florida. Thank you for this great victory,” Mr. Romney said, after the crowd greeted him with cheers of “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!”

Mr. Romney congratulated his Republican rivals in his victory speech and moved on to hammer President Obama, saying the Democrat has failed to improve the economy, presiding over 35 straights months in which the nation’s unemployment rate stayed above 8 percent.

“Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it’s time for you to get out of the way!” he said, while vowing to cut federal spending, balance the federal budget and repeal “Obamacare.”

“My leadership will end the Obama era and begin a new era of American prosperity!”

The contest for the state’s 50 delegates essentially boiled down to a two-man race between Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich — as evidenced by decisions to campaign elsewhere by the other two candidates.

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul were stumping Tuesday in Colorado and Nevada. The two Western states will hold caucuses over the next seven days.

Mr. Romney also reached out to the other candidates, congratulating them for a “hard-fought” contest.

“Primary contests aren’t easy, and they’re not supposed to be,” he said. “A competitive primary does not divide us; it prepares us and we will win.”

In contrast, Mr. Gingrich’s concession speech did not congratulate Mr. Romney on his win. Instead, he told supporters, in an Orlando, Fla., room filled with signs noting that 46 states had yet to vote, that he will continue to challenge Mr. Romney everywhere possible.

“We are going to win, and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August,” he said, referring to the site of the Republican National Convention.

He claimed the results showed that this is now “two-person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate,” whom he did not name. He also argued that he’s come back before and will do it again.

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