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Florida primary results: Romney most 'electable,' but GOP base still wary (+video)

GOP voters saw Mitt Romney as the candidate most likely to defeat President Obama, Florida primary results show. But a disconnect persists between Romney and the party's conservative base.

By Staff writer / February 1, 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves during his victory celebration after Florida primary results declared Romney the winner on Tuesday, in Tampa, Fla.

Gerald Herbert/AP

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Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

In the end, Florida Republicans want most to defeat President Obama, and they believe Mitt Romney is the man to do it.

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In exit polls taken from Tuesday’s primary, which Mr. Romney won by a resounding 14-point margin, 45 percent of voters reported that the ability to beat Mr. Obama is the candidate quality that matters most – well ahead of experience, strong moral character, and being a “true conservative.”

In addition, 53 percent of Florida Republicans said Romney would be the most likely to defeat Obama, far ahead of Newt Gingrich, who got 29 percent. Voters also reported the highest level of satisfaction with a Romney nomination, at 65 percent, compared with how they would feel about a different Republican nominee.

Romney also won among women voters (with 41 percent), white voters (45 percent), Hispanics (54 percent), and all age and income groups. He tied with former Speaker Gingrich among evangelicals, after losing them 2-to-1 in South Carolina.

Overall, Romney posted a solid win in Tuesday’s primary, beating Gingrich 46 percent to 32 percent. Rick Santorum came in third with 13 percent, and Ron Paul came in fourth with 7 percent. With the best-funded, best-organized campaign in the GOP field, Romney has reasserted his position as the favorite to win his party’s presidential nomination.

But embedded in the data are some warning signs for Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Gingrich beat him among the 33 percent of Florida Republicans who call themselves “very conservative.” Among strong supporters of the tea party movement, more than one-third of the vote, Gingrich beat Romney by 12 percentage points.

Forty-one percent said Romney’s issue positions are “not conservative enough.” And 38 percent said they “would like to see someone else” in the Republican race.

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