Mitt Romney has won the Republican primary in Florida, defeating rival Newt Gingrich by nearly 15 percent. Florida is the largest of the first four primaries.
American presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has trounced his main rival, Newt Gingrich, in a key presidential primary in Florida.
With nearly all votes counted, the former Massachusetts governor took 46 percent of the vote, the highest percentage for the winner of any state so far. Gingrich came in second at 32 percent, while former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was in third with 13 percent and Ron Paul was in fourth with 7 percent.
CNN, MSNBC, ABC and Fox all called the vote for Romney, who also won an earlier vote in New Hampshire. Gringrich won the primary in South Carolina on January 21.
But Florida was a tougher state for Gingrich, as voters are more diverse than in South Carolina. The sheer size of the state and the variety of media markets also make advertising campaigns more important, a fact Romney used to his advantage by taking jibes at his opponent.
Gingrich told his Florida supporters late Tuesday that he would stay in the fight despite the loss. He said the outcome of the Florida primary showed that the race for the presidential nomination was now a contest between "the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich," and the "Massachusetts moderate," referring to Romney’s former term as Republican governor in the liberal northeastern state.
All four are vying to become the Republican Party's candidate to take on Democratic President Barack Obama in the November presidential election. Obama is hoping to win a second term in the White House.
Speaking before a crowd of supporters in Florida on Tuesday, Romney accused Obama of not steering the economy in the right direction, pointing to persistent high unemployment figures and a slow recovery from the worst recession the US has seen in decades.
"Mr President, you were elected to lead. You chose to follow, and now its time for you to get out of the way," Romney said. He has promised to roll back Obama's health care reforms and to "return entrepreneurship" to the country, and prevent the US from becoming a highly indebted welfare state.
The United States needs a White House that represents the "best of America," and not "the worst of what Europe has become," said Romney.
The next contests are the caucus votes in Maine and Nevada on Saturday, followed next Tuesday by Colorado and Minnesota and a primary in Missouri.
Author: Nicole Goebel, Martin Kuebler (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Matt Zuvela