Here's how big Mitt Romney's Florida win may be tonight: So big, he was able to win voting blocs he's often struggled to capture so far this year - groups like men, young voters and the middle class. Voters cited him as the candidate most likely to understand average Americans' problems. And late breaking voters broke his way.
So who didn't get swept away in the Romney romp?
You can start with the Tea Party. Romney pulled a respectable 33% among voters who strongly support the Tea Party, according to early exit polls - but that showing pales in comparison to the 46% captured by Newt Gingrich. The 7% of voters whose most important issue this year was abortion overwhelmingly backed Gingrich over Romney, 44 to 24%. So did voters looking for a true conservative: they picked Gingrich over Romney by a greater than 4-to-1 margin.
In other words: the exit polls suggest the party's most conservative voters still haven't warned to Romney just yet. But there are signs of movement: voters who believe abortion should be illegal backed both men in equal numbers. Evangelicals gave a slight 3-point edge to Gingrich - but Romney nearly closed that massive gap. And in the Panhandle - the state's most conservative region - the two men are neck-and-neck at 38%.
Yesterday, the stat of the day was that Wesleyan study suggesting a 1,600% increase (yes: that's one, comma, zero zero) in ad spending by outside groups this cycle.
Today, the stat of the day came courtesy of CMAG/Kantar Media, which tracks political ad spending. It found - no shock here - that the spots flooding Florida's airwaves since last Monday have been ovewhelmingly negative. And Newt Gingrich was by far the top target: more than two-thirds of the political ads that aired in the past week were anti-Gingrich spots, while just under 1 in 4 were anti-Romney. But here's a puzzler: almost 1 in 10 of the past week's ads were pro-Gingrich spots - while just 0.1% were pro-Romney. As in, one-tenth of a single percentage point.
But here's the thing: ads were a lot less decisive in this race than they were in South Carolina. Two-thirds of the voters there said they were an important part of that decision. Here in Florida, just 39% said campaign spots were important to their vote; 58% said they weren't.
A week-and-a-half ago, two-thirds of South Carolina's GOP primary voters said debates helped decide their vote; back then, Gingrich lapped Romney among those voters by a 2-to-1 margin. And once again Tuesday, in early exit polls, two-thirds of Florida’s Republican primary voters said debates were an important factor in deciding their vote.
So could the candidate who dominated the debate stage in Florida expect the same sort of result here? The answer's not quite that simple: one x-factor in Florida is the fact that thousands of the state's voters cast ballots before the candidates faced off there this month. In other words, when voters point to debate performance, they're not necessarily talking about last week's faceoffs; a big chunk of the electorate could have based their votes on nationally-televised debates from earlier-voting states like South Carolina.
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