Ten days ago, Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina Republican Primary, in a victory that was either inevitable or an upset, depending on who you asked. This set up a great amount of expectations and interest for the Florida primary contest.
Florida is a much larger state than South Carolina, and also has a more diverse population. Florida also has several different major cities, which would be a very important point in the advertising war between Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
After winning South Carolina, Gingrich was ahead in polling in Florida for several days. However, either because of a natural drop in the post-victory bounce, or because Florida's electorate is naturally not as amiable to Gingrich as South Carolina's was, or because Mitt Romney spent over 10 million dollars in one week assailing Gingrich's past record, Gingrich's support begin to weaken. By the day before election day, the consensus was on a Romney victory, although whether it would be wide or narrow was still a matter of speculation.
As a further complication, Florida broke the Republican Party rules by holding its primary both too early, and as a Winner Take All Primary. The WTA nature of the contest probably fueled the vehemence of the contest. Spending ten million dollars to win a few additional delegates wouldn't make much sense, but spending ten million dollars to win all of Florida's delegates seems a bit more likely of a proposition. However, because of Florida violating the rules of the nominating contest, they were penalized half their delegates, making the prize somewhat smaller.
For the first three contests, I said that the race was still unclear about its progress. After the vote in Florida tonight, it is a bit more clear, at least to me. And the news isn't all bad for Newt Gingrich, because while he lost the state, Romney's support was centered in the Miami area, and Gingrich still managed to win the panhandle and the north of the state. My guess from this point onward is that Gingrich will do well in the south, while Romney will do well in urban areas, but neither one now seems to be able to knock out each other's bases of support.
Also of note in this race, although it isn't yet clear what it says about the primaries overall, is that both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum chose to not actively campaign in Florida, mostly due to the overwhelming cost of television advertising in the state. Instead, they chose to let the two leading candidates run against each other. It is possible that Rick Santorum is reconsidering his candidacy, but that would be speculation at this point.
Having made this prediction, I hope I will not be proved wrong later in this week, as we move on to the 2012 Nevada Republican Caucus.