Mitt Romney heads west to build on Florida primary win

Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, each stated their determination to become the Republican candidate to take on President Obama

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney's campaign moved on to Minnesota and Nevada, after his sweeping victory in Florida's primary.

Official results show Mr Romney took 46% of votes, Newt Gingrich 32%, Rick Santorum 13% and 7% for Ron Paul.

The win gives Mr Romney all the momentum as the contest builds towards Super Tuesday on 6 March, when 10 states hold primaries and caucuses.

Mr Romney is the favourite to win Nevada's vote on Saturday.

But he made headlines for remarks made during a CNN interview on Wednesday that once again touched on the issue of how Mr Romney - who is worth an estimated $200m ($126m) - relates to the economic needs of ordinary Americans.

The former Massachusetts governor told CNN that he "didn't care about the very poor", adding: "We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it."

In the full interview - and in later comments in between campaign stops, Mr Romney clarified to say he was most worried about the economic problems of the middle class, and stressed that they would be the focus of his presidency, not the very poor or very rich.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich held one campaign stop in Nevada on Wednesday.

He has vowed to fight on all the way to August's Republican Party convention, which will formally crown a nominee to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama for the White House on 6 November.

Secret Service protection

In a sign of how bitter the race has become, Mr Gingrich did not congratulate Mr Romney nor call him after Tuesday night's result.

Analysis

This victory proved some of the truths strategists prefer to speak behind closed doors, not on cable TV. Money matters. Negative works. Go for the kill.

Mitt Romney proved himself quite an operator. He crushed Newt Gingrich with a series of very negative TV adverts, attacking the former speaker's character and suitability to be president. He showed some fire in the debate.

But above all this came down to money. He spent at least $16m in Florida in the last month alone. He put out 13,000 TV ads. Gingrich had around 200.

By contrast Newt Gingrich pulled his punches in the debates, tried to be presidential and just didn't make much impact. He drew back, to an extent, from attacking the way Romney made his money. There was no display of a killer instinct.

From Wednesday, Mr Romney - a private equity tycoon, Mormon and former Massachusetts governor - is to receive Secret Service protection, requested by his campaign.

Mr Obama's campaign organisation has released to journalists a fierce attack on Mr Romney, in a sign that it expects him to be the Republican nominee.

Obama for America said: "The more voters get to know Mitt Romney and understand his record not as a job creator, as he claims, but as a corporate buyout specialist who as governor drove his state to 47th in job creation, the more they dislike him."

Making the rounds of morning TV shows on Wednesday, Mr Romney said the negative tone of the Republican race so far was just a warm-up to what the eventual nominee would face from President Obama's campaign.

"Perhaps what we're getting now inoculates us, or at least prepares us, for what will come down the road," Mr Romney said.

Exit polls indicate he appealed to a broad range of Florida Republican voters, from the Hispanic population to a majority of Tea Party sympathisers.

He also polled strongly among women voters. Only about half of this demographic had a favourable view of the thrice-married Mr Gingrich, while about eight in 10 had a positive opinion of Mr Romney.

At his victory rally in a packed Tampa ballroom on Tuesday night, he told supporters that "together we will build an America where hope is a new job with a paycheck, not a faded word on an old bumper sticker".

Bachmann withholds endorsement

Mr Romney and his allies pumped more than $16m (£10m) into Florida TV advertising, mainly attacking Mr Gingrich, whose campaign and supporters could only spend about $3m in reply.

Florida primary results

Source: Florida Department of State

Photo: Romney Romney

46%

Photo: Gingrich Gingrich

32%

Photo: Santorum Santorum

13%

Photo: Paul Paul

7%

100% of precincts reporting

A defiant Mr Gingrich, who also heads to Nevada on Wednesday, said: "It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate."

Meanwhile, on Fox News Michele Bachmann denied a Boston Globe report that she would endorse Mr Romney at a rally in her home state on Wednesday.

The Minnesota congresswoman and Tea Party stalwart dropped out of the White House race last month with her campaign owing more than $1m, according to its accounts.

Seven states will hold primaries and caucuses in February, including the Mormon-heavy state of Nevada on Saturday, where Mr Romney won easily during his first run for the presidency in 2008.

Next week there are caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a primary in Missouri.

Mr Romney's campaign raised $24m in the final months of 2011, dwarfing his competitors' warchests for the nominating battles ahead.

The candidates will next meet for a televised debate in Arizona on 22 February, depriving Mr Gingrich for three weeks of the type of forum where he has typically performed well.

Correspondents say Mr Gingrich's game plan is to ride out February and hang on until March when Southern states where he stands a better chance of success come into play.

Mr Romney's win in the Sunshine State means he has regained the upper hand after he was trounced by Mr Gingrich in last month's South Carolina primary.

The former governor has now won two of the first four contests, also capturing New Hampshire while coming in second in Iowa.

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