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Mitt Romney wins big in Florida primary, retakes lead for nomination (+video)

Early reports in the Florida primary show that Mitt Romney has a double-digit lead on Newt Gingrich. Romney's organization and improved debate performances appeared to be decisive.

By By Linda FeldmannStaff writer / January 31, 2012

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney cheer as results come in during the Florida primary election Tuesday in Tampa, Fla.

Chris O'Meara/AP

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ForT LAUDERDALE, FLA.

Mitt Romney won the Florida primary handily Tuesday, reasserting his status as front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

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With 67 percent of the results reported, Mr. Romney had 47 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich was second with 31 percent, Rick Santorum was third with 13 percent, and Ron Paul fourth with 7 percent.

Romney’s big victory marks a sharp reversal for Mr. Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who just 10 days ago won the South Carolina primary by nearly 13 points.

Romney’s strong debate performances last week, in which he pounded on the former House speaker over his tumultuous speakership and consulting work for mortgage giant Freddie Mac, proved to be crucial. According to early exit polls, about two-thirds of Florida primary voters cited the debates as important in how they voted.

Florida, the fourth largest state in the country, is by far the biggest prize to date, with 50 GOP convention delegates at stake. In some ways, Florida is a microcosm of the country, with large minority populations and residents who have moved here from all over the United States. Romney’s victory portends an ability to play to varied crowds in future primaries.

The exit polls show about 45 percent of Florida GOP voters said that the ability to defeat President Obama was the most important quality in a candidate. The top issue was the economy, selected by 60 percent of voters.

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