Romney Gains Momentum with Florida Win, But Gingrich Vows Prolonged Fight

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Mitt Romney beat Newt Gingrich by 14 percent last night in the Florida primary, but he has yet to win a majority of votes in any state contest so far, and Gingrich has vowed to continue his fight. The Florida vote was the first contest of the year where only registered Republicans could participate, with independents and crossover Democrats restricted from casting ballots in the primary. “The Florida primary is a very big one for Mitt Romney,” says David Bernstein, political writer for the Boston Phoenix who has covered Romney for years. “They knew that he was not likely to win a lot of states in the South, some of the conservative Midwest, so Florida was really the one place where they thought they had to win. And with Florida, they feel like the rest of the states really add up in their favor from this point.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Mitt Romney beat Newt Gingrich by 14 percent last night in the Florida primary, but he has yet to win a majority of votes in any state contest so far. Romney addressed his cheering supporters shortly after the polls closed at 8:00 p.m.

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you to the people in this room and to the people all over Florida. Thank you tonight for this great victory.

This campaign—this campaign is about more than replacing a president. It’s about saving the soul of America. President Obama and I have very different visions of America. President Obama wants to grow government and continue to amass trillion-dollar deficits. I will not just slow the growth of government, I will cut the spending of government. I will not just freeze government’s share of the total economy, I will reduce it. And without raising taxes, I will finally get America to a balanced budget.

President—President Obama’s view of a free economy is to send your money to his friends. My vision for a free enterprise economy is to return entrepreneurship and the genius and creativity to the American people.

And one of the most personal matters of our lives, our healthcare, President Obama would turn decision making over to government bureaucrats. He forced through Obamacare, and I will repeal it.

You know, like his colleagues in the faculty lounge who think they know better, President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy. I will make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, for innovators, for job creators. And unlike the other people running for president, I know how to do that, because I’ve done it before.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaking last night in Florida, where he won the Republican primary with more than 46 percent of the vote. After winning in South Carolina, Romney’s main rival, Newt Gingrich, trailed him in Florida, with 32 percent of primary votes. But after the results were in, Gingrich told supporters he would continue to fight.

NEWT GINGRICH: And I think Florida did something very important, coming on top of South Carolina. It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate. And the voters of Florida really made that clear.

Now, you’ll notice that a number of folks are holding up a sign about 46 states to go. We did this, in part, for the elite media, because, you know, the same people who said I was dead in June and July and said I was gone after Iowa, who seemed totally quiet the night of the South Carolina victory, are now going to be back saying, “What’s he going to do? What’s he going to do? What’s he going to do?” So, I just want to reassure them tonight. We are going to contest everyplace, and we are going to win, and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Newt Gingrich speaking to supporters after his disappointing show in yesterday’s Florida Republican primary. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum finished a distant third with 13 percent of the vote, followed by Ron Paul in fourth place with 7 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: Romney’s decisive finish cemented his front-runner status in the bid for the Republican presidential nomination. No state where Republicans have competed this year is more reflective of the nation’s geographical, political and ethnic diversity than Florida. And it was the first contest of the year where only registered Republicans could participate, with independents and crossover Democrats restricted from casting ballots in the primary.

Meanwhile, federal records released last night show the super PAC supporting Romney had more cash heading into 2012 than the candidate himself. Restore Our Future raised $23.6 million by the end of last year, compared with the Romney campaign’s nearly $20 million in cash on hand. As of December 31st, the group had made $4.1 million worth of independent expenditures, all of which attacked Newt Gingrich.

Well, to find out more about Mitt Romney and his record, we’re joined now by David Bernstein in Providence, Rhode Island. He is a political writer at the Boston Phoenix who has covered Romney for many years.

David Bernstein, it’s great to have you with me and Nermeen Shaikh, and we want to start off by talking about the significance of the Florida primary.

DAVID BERNSTEIN: Well, thanks for having me on.

The Florida primary is a very big one for Mitt Romney. It figured very heavily in their strategy, from the beginning, because they knew that he was not likely to win a lot of states in the South, some of the conservative Midwest, so Florida was really the one place where they thought they had to win. And with Florida, they feel like the rest of the states really add up in their favor from this point. And it also, you know, stops anyone else from getting momentum. And the size of the victory, I think, was greater than even they had hoped for from early on and, I think, is really going to line up a lot of the Republican establishment and funders and so forth behind him as the likely nominee.

AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to ask you about the donors. The super PAC information is very important. We haven’t had it until this point about who these donors were. In the case of Mitt Romney’s PAC, 11 people directed a million dollars or more each to the PAC. I’m looking at a piece in the Washington Post today. Four of the $1 million donors are New York-based hedge fund managers: Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management; Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies; Julian Robertson of Tiger Management; and John Paulson, founder of Paulson & Co., who famously made $5 billion in one year betting against the mortgage crisis. Bill Koch, one of the Koch brothers, gave a $250,000 personal check to back Romney and another $750,000 through the energy company that he founded called Oxbow Carbon. Koch is the son of the founder of Koch Industries, but sold his share of the company to his two brothers after a long legal battle. David Bernstein, who Romney’s big supporters are?

DAVID BERNSTEIN: Well, and if you go back to the very early raising—fundraising for the super PAC in May and June, which was reported in the first half of the year, there were a lot of his former colleagues at Bain, Bain Consulting, Bain Capital, as well as other, you know, sort of Wall Street and hedge fund folks. The key for that super PAC has been that they didn’t have to do any reporting after the end of June until now. So, we haven’t—essentially, they’ve been able to keep who those donors are away from the voters, if you will, until we reached this point, you know, through several of the first voting primaries, including this key one in Florida. So, now, that could become a little bit of a controversy.

What’s interesting, a few of those folks that you mentioned, there are some sort of big conservative stalwarts in there, and also some of the Wal-Mart heirs gave a little bit of money to the super PAC, as well, but there’s a group of them who had really been looking for someone else—you mentioned Paul Singer, for instance, Paulson, some others—who really had been looking, for instance, to draw Chris Christie into the race and had been really actively trying to get Mitch Daniels in the race. They really were not gung-ho Romney supporters from early on. But as the race went on or as the field sort of dwindled, and he was there, sort of the guy left standing for those monied interests, if you will, some of whom are much more moderate or liberal on social issues and have not liked how Mitt Romney has moved to the right on those issues over time. Paul Singer, in particular, has been very active in supporting gay marriage, for instance, in New York and elsewhere. So, they were not thrilled about landing on Mitt Romney, but when they felt like they had no other choice, they clearly have now jumped in with both feet.

And where that money has gone, as you mentioned, almost entirely in attacks against Newt Gingrich. And one would imagine that there’s going to be more of that money coming later on in attacks aimed at Barack Obama, once they turn their direction that way.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: David Bernstein, you have written, as well, about why a number of the donors who supported Romney in 2008 haven’t done so this time around. What’s the significance of that?

DAVID BERNSTEIN: Well, it’s very interesting. You know, I had taken a look—and I have not seen the new report from the last few months of the year, just came out late last night, so I haven’t had a chance to go through the whole thing—but what I had looked at is, through the first three-quarters of the year, well into the cycle, the vast majority, really three-quarters or more of the big donors—I’m not talking about the little donors, I’m talking about the ones giving near the maximum to Romney in his first run, and even early in his first run, which would suggest that they were, you know, very serious supporters, you know, giving him $2,000 very early in his run in 2007, when he was really an underdog, not the establishment pick, not the favorite. And so, you look: why wouldn’t those folks be giving to him, you know, by fall of this year, when he was clearly the front-runner, clearly the favorite to be the nominee?

And what it turns out to be is that a lot of the very big influential bundlers or people who influenced bundlers, folks like, you know, even a Jeb Bush, for instance, in Florida or a Haley Barbour, some folks in—out West and in Texas, for instance, either they were waiting for someone specific to get—that they were hoping to get in, or they just were not happy with what Mitt Romney had become. And I think that was a big part of it, that early in his first race for 2008, Romney was thought of as being a moderate, but then he ran very hard to the right. And a lot of the people who were very much with him at the beginning of that race, at this point, were looking for something a little less hardcore on some of the issues, like the social issues, like immigration, where Romney has turned very hard to the right, and so on. But I think that in the end, they’re going to come back to him.

AMY GOODMAN: David Bernstein, we’re going to break, then come back to this discussion and look back at Romney’s life and look at his family, as well, where Mitt Romney came from. You’ve been writing about him extensively. Again, Newt Gingrich last night did not concede defeat. The traditional approach in a primary is, when the numbers are out, one of the candidates calls the other, and then the speeches are given. That wasn’t the case last night, and Newt Gingrich says he’s taking this to the Republican convention in Tampa, all holding signs around him saying, “46 states to go.” David Bernstein is a political writer at the Boston Phoenix. We’ll continue with him in a minute.

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