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Lessons Learned From the Florida Primary

Unsurprisingly, my home state’s Republican primary electorate voted Mitt Romney as the winner of its 50 delegates. Over at Slate, Dave Weigel analyzes some of the key takeaways from the Florida contest:

1) Romney still isn’t winning evangelical voters. In South Carolina, 64 percent of voters called themselves “evangelical” or “born again.” Gingrich won 45 percent of them, building his lead, and Romney only got 21 percent of them, tying with Rick Santorum. On to Florida, where only 40 percent of voters identified as evangelicals. Romney lost them — 38 to 36 — but it just didn’t matter. He’s still got to sweat the states where it does matter. In Alabama, for example, one of the Super Tuesday states that Gingrich will try to win, 68 percent of 2008 voters called themselves evangelicals. Without reading each and every mind making this decision, we can infer just a little queasiness about Mormonism.

2) It’s not just Bill Kristol worrying about this field. Nearly two out of every five GOP voters exited the ballot boxes, picked up their exit poll forms, and scribbled down that they were “unsatisfied” with their choices. That’s remarkably lousy! If this turns out to be a short primary, with a lot of pundits paid to talk about stuff but lacking stuff to talk about, there’s material here for some more brokered convention/Americans Elect nattering.

3) The Palin and Cain endorsements of Gingrich were basically worthless. Palin, with her trademark combination of haphazardness, pique, and Fox News interviews, spent the week before the primary talking up Gingrich — voting for him was a vote against “the machine.” Herman Cain introduced Gingrich in person on Saturday, and campaigned with him on Monday. The polls picked up no Gingrichmentum from any of this. The exit polls were more clarifying — voters who decided “in the last few days” broke disproportionately for Rick Santorum, not Gingrich. Santorum, who got 13 percent of the vote statewide, got 22 percent of late-deciders.

4) Rick Perry was a failure of world-historical proportions. On primary day, Rick Perry’s extinct presidential campaign released its final donation numbers: $20.1 million. Hours later, he scored 6,742 votes in Florida. How pathetic was this? Four years earlier, in the very same position — still on the ballot, out of the race — Fred Thompson won 22,668 Florida votes. So far, adding up all the caucus votes and primary ballots, the Perry campaign (not counting Super PACs) has spent $851.88 per vote.

5) GOP voters: Still bored. Total GOP primary turnout in 2008: 1,949,498. Total turnout this year, before the official count: 1,661,824.

Image via Associated Press

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