Romney Rides Wave of Support, Wins Florida

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TAMPA -- After a crushing defeat in South Carolina, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cruised to an impressive victory in Florida, Tuesday night.

The winner-take-all state gave Romney 50 delegates toward the 1,144 needed for the GOP nomination. The race was called in his favor almost as soon as the last polls closed at 8 p.m. ET.

With most of the ballots counted, Romney had 46 percent of the vote, to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's 32 percent.  Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul placed third and fourth, with 13 percent and 7 percent of the vote.

"To the people of Florida tonight, thank you for this great victory," Romney said before an excited crowd of supporters at the Tampa Convention Center.

Gingrich came to Florida with the wind of a decisive South Carolina win at his back. Yet, he quickly lost steam once Romney began running a barrage of negative attack ads that filled the airwaves.

Some are crediting those ads for Romney's big win.

"A competitive primary does not divide us; it prepares us," Romney said. "And when we gather here in Tampa seven months from now for our convention, ours will be a united party with a winning ticket for America."

Stay with CBNNews.com for more on this developing story.

CBN News Chief Political Correspondent David Brody will have analysis of Romney's latest win tonight during our special 11 p.m. ET edition of 'The 700 Club.'

Different State, Different Voters

Florida presented a far more diverse population than South Carolina, where evangelical Christians made up two-thirds of voters. A little less than half of those casting ballots in Florida were evangelicals.

In South Carolina, women overwhelmingly voted for Gingrich. But, that wasn't the case in Florida where women chose Romney instead of the former House speaker.

With the GOP nomination in mind, Romney thanked his adversaries and quickly turned his attention to President Barack Obama.

"Three years ago this week, a newly elected President Obama faced the American people and said that if he couldn't turn the economy around in three years, he'd be looking at a one-term proposition. We're here to collect," Romney said.

Gingrich and Santorum, however, kept their sights firmly planted on Romney.

"It is now clear that this will be a two-person race," Gingrich told his supporters in Orlando. "We are going to contest every place and we are going to win, and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August."

Underdogs Eye Nevada

Santorum left Florida early and headed home after his three-year-old daughter Bella was hospitalized.

"On behalf of our family, seeing the outpouring of support, I just want to say to everyone, thank you for that support and your prayers," he said.

Santorum never returned to the Sunshine State. Instead, he set his sites on Nevada.

"Tomorrow I will give a speech against Romneycare," Santorum said Tuesday night in Las Vegas.

Paul skipped Florida completely and went to Nevada as well. He called Romney to congratulate him, much to the dismay of his supporters who are expected to caucus in droves for him.

"The message is loud and clear. The enthusiasm is here," Paul said. "We want our freedom back. We don't want more government."

Nevada will hold Republican presidential caucuses Feb. 4, followed by contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri Feb. 7.

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Robin Mazyck

Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief

Robin Mazyck serves as Bureau Chief for CBN News' Washington, D.C., bureau. Robin has interviewed a number of prominent politicians and national figures for the network, including Mike Huckabee, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Steele, George Lopez and more.