Romney gains momentum with Florida primary win - - Jackson, MS

Romney gains momentum with Florida primary win

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(Source: CNN) (Source: CNN)

(RNN) - Mitt Romney has claimed a decisive victory in the Florida primary, becoming the first  candidate to win a second contest in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

CNN declared the former Massachusetts governor the winner as the final polls closed at 8 p.m. EST.

With 95 percent of the precincts reporting, Romney held onto 46 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich, his chief rival in the race for the GOP nomination, was carrying 32 percent of the vote.

With the win, Romney also claims the 50 delegates the Sunshine State has to offer and bounces from back a 12-point loss to Gingrich in the South Carolina primary.

Shortly after the race was called, he tweeted, "Thank you FL! While we celebrate this victory, we must not forget what this election is really about: defeating Barack Obama."

And, like he has throughout his campaign, take aim at Obama he did, vowing in his victory speech to cut government spending, repeal "Obamacare"- the president's signature healthcare law - and strengthen the military if he's elected president.

"Together we will build an America where hope is a job and a paycheck, not a faded word on an old bumper sticker," Romney told supporters. 

The two frontrunners spent significant time – and money – campaigning in the state, sinking large amounts of cash into advertising. According to CNN, a pro-Romney superPAC spent $4.5million on advertising, with a Gingrich superPAC spending $6 million.

The Campaign Media Analysis Group reported the Florida primary was the most negative campaign on record. In total, 92 percent of ads airing in Florida over the past week were deemed negative.

Still, calling his competitors "serious and able," Romney brushed off the idea that a tough primary weakens the party's chances at defeating President Barack Obama in November.

"Primary contests are not easy and they're not supposed to be... A competitive primary does not divide us. It prepares us and we will win," he said.

"When we gather back here in Tampa seven months from now for our convention, ours will be a united party with a winning ticket for America." 

While supporters rallied with "46 states to go" signs - a nod to the 46 states left to hold primaries or caucuses - Gingrich made it clear he would continue with his campaign, fighting to the finish.

"We are going to contest every place and we are going to win and we are going to be in Tampa as the nominee in August," he said.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum came in third with 13 percent of the vote. Ron Paul rounded out the field at 7 percent.

Historically, Florida has been an influential state in the race for the president. The state gets to cast 27 electoral votes in November, the fourth largest number of votes behind California (55), Texas (34), and New York (31).

Florida is the fourth contest in the nomination process and gives Romney his second overall win. He also won the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10, but came in second behind Santorum at the Iowa caucuses.  Gingrich dealt his campaign a blow by winning the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21.

The candidates turn their focus to the Nevada caucuses held on Saturday.

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