As polls predicted for nearly a week, Newt Gingrich decisively lost the Florida GOP primary last night to Mitt Romney. Exit polls showed TV ads and debates were a big deal to voters. As anyone who watched the two Florida debates knows, Newt failed to shine in either. As for the battle of the ads, Romney massively outspent Newt in Florida.
Romney’s supporters want Newt to drop out quickly because a difficult primary battle has a way of weakening general election candidates: think Bush 41’s tussle with Pat Buchanan in 1992, Carter’s battle with Ted Kennedy in 1980, and Reagan’s weakening of Gerald Ford in 1976. The Clinton vs. Obama grudge match in 2008, which appears to have sharpened Obama’s campaigning skills, was an exception to the rule.
Despite the predictable (and predicted) big loss, Newt shows no sign he’s ready to quit. On Monday he said the campaign will go into the summer, unless Romney drops out sooner. And last night’s “concession speech” in Florida was one of Newt’s better ones (if you’re into that sort of thing). Crucially for Newt’s credibility to continue, Newt’s still beating Romney in national polls. National front-runners don’t drop out.
I suspect Romney will pull ahead in those national polls shortly, but unless and until Newt’s numbers go into free fall, why shouldn’t he stick around? He clearly relishes the spotlight. It’s fun for him and fun for some of us.