Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Florida Republican primary tonight, crushing former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) by a double-digit margin, according to the Associated Press.
Romney’s expected victory sets up the GOP field for a long break in the electoral calendar; the next binding primary won’t be until Feb. 28.
Under state GOP rules, Romney will receive all of the state’s 50 Republican National Committee delegates.
In a victory speech before a cheering crowd, Romney trained his fire on President Barack Obama, not his Republican opponents.
“Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses,” he said. “In another era of American crisis, Thomas Paine is reported to have said, ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way.’ Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it’s time for you to get out of the way!”
Gingrich, who spoke before supporters holding signs that said “46 States to Go,” said that the election results made it clear this would be a “two-person race.”
He said the signs were a reminder to “elite media” pundits who dismissed his chances before.
“The same people who said I was dead in June or July ... are now going to be back saying, ‘What’s he going to do?’” he said.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) finished third and fourth, respectively.
In a speech given from Nevada, where Republicans will caucus Saturday, Santorum criticized Gingrich, saying the former Speaker came off his win in South Carolina with a chance to be the conservative choice in the primary.
“It didn’t work,” Santorum said. “He became the issue. We can’t let our nominee become the issue in the campaign.”
The candidates will compete next in the Nevada caucuses Saturday, and polling shows Romney is favored to win that contest as well. Maine Republicans will caucus for their nominee also that week.
On Feb. 7, Republicans in Colorado and Minnesota will also caucus for their nominee. Missouri Republicans will primary on that day, but that election is nonbinding.
The next major primary contests are on Feb. 28 in Arizona and Michigan, where 29 and 30 delegates are at stake, respectively.