There were four basic factors that enabled Mitt Romney to move so quickly from a disastrous loss in SC to a win in FL which made him, once again, the prohibitive favorite for the GOP presidential nomination.
* Money: His (roughly) 5-1 financial advantage in the state was crucial to his ability to “bank” a big lead in early voting and keep Gingrich on the defensive with negative ads. It’s still not clear why Gingrich’s Super-PAC did not spend much more than half the money it had at its disposal in FL. But thanks to a disclosure yesterday, we do know Romney’s Super-PAC began the year with $23 million in the bank, and it made full use of that in FL.
* Debates: It’s hard to overstate how much the debates meant positively to Gingrich in SC, and negatively in FL. That last debate on Jan. 26 was truly a disaster for Newt.
* Opinion-leaders: Romney had explicit support from some key FL opinion-leaders (most importantly in Miami’s Cuban-American community), and less explicit but considerable help from others (notably Sen. Marco Rubio, who rebuked of Gingrich for running an ad accusing Mitt of being anti-immigrant, which Romney mentioned about forty times during one of the debates). And without question, Newt was thrown off balance by the violent criticism he received from national opinion-leaders, particularly those “movement conservatives” who couldn’t be dismissed as RINOs.
* Demographics: Gingrich won several of the same key demographic categories that helped him win SC (e.g., evangelicals and voters who are “very conservative” or are “strong Tea Party supporters”). There just weren’t enough of them in Florida, whose GOP voters are less culturally southern, and less violently conservative ideologically. It also helped Romney, who might have been vulnerable on immigration, that the state’s sizable HIspanic vote (15% of the primary electorate) was dominated by Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans who don’t care much about immigration policy.