The cable networks and the Associated Press called the Florida primary at 8 p.m. on the dot, as soon as the last polls closed in the state’s western Panhandle – in a result that will cement the front-running status of the former Massachusetts governor for the Republican presidential nomination.
The projections were based on unofficial returns and exit polling that showed Romney with a double-digit lead over his closest challenger, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Final polls closed at 8 p.m. ET, and the early trend for Romney — buoyed by strong support among more than 632,000 voters who cast absentee or early ballots — indicated a solid victory to blunt any momentum Gingrich gained from last week’s victory in South Carolina.
According to exit poll information, Romney led in most categories to show his appeal to Republican voters who said their main concern was choosing a candidate who can defeat President Barack Obama in November.
The victory gives Romney all 50 of Florida’s convention delegates, and more importantly, new momentum heading into a series of caucuses and primaries in the next month building up to Super Tuesday on March 6, when 10 states will hold nominating contests.
The battle for the Republican presidential nomination now moves to the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.