Mitt Romney Wins Big in Florida; Rivals Commit to Staying in the Race

We gathered updates during the evening of Mitt Romney's victory in the Sunshine State. Full results can be viewed at the Florida Election Watch site maintained by the Florida Department of State Division of Elections.

9:30 p.m. Ron Paul's turn. "Well, if enthusiasm wins elections, we wins hands down," Paul says, drawing boos when he adds that he called Romney to congratulate him. The boos turned to cheers when Paul added that he'd said, "We would see him soon in the caucus states!" Paul is now in third place in the delegate count, he noted; when you have an "irate, tireless minority," you do very well in caucus states.

9:10 p.m. A surprisingly upbeat and measured Newt Gingrich speaks and praises the positive spirit of the voters (in implicit contrast to that of he co-campaigners): "I want to thank Floridians. Everybody here has been so positive in every part of the state."

What Florida has done: "It is now clear that this will be a two person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate," says Gingrich. And to "the same people who said I was dead" in July and after Iowa, "I just want to reassure them tonight ,we will contest every place and we are going to win and we are going to Tampa as the nominee in August."

"You might ask, how can that be true?" Gingrich asked the question he knew would be raised by his remarks. Because, he said citing Abraham Lincoln's famous words, "We have government of the people by the people for the people...And people power will defeat money power."

Notably, he did not mention calling or congratulating Romney.

9:07 p.m. Why Santorum is decrying the mud: An "analysis from Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) shows a whopping 92% of ads airing in Florida over the past week were negative".

8:59 p.m. Rick Santorum is with supporters in Las Vegas tonight, thanking them and others on both sides of the aisle for their prayers and support during the recent hospitalization of his medically vulnerable 3-year-old, Bella, who was born with a genetic condition.

"Republicans can do better...this campaign went downhill" in Florida, Santorum says, decrying the "mud-wrestling match" in the state. He pledges to continue campaigning.

8:56 p.m. Andrew Sullivan did not like Romney's speech.

8:32 pm. And here comes Mitt. "Thanks you guys!" he says. Cried of Mitt! Mitt! Mitt! fill the air. "There are fewer candidates tonight than when the race began," Romey says, graciously acknowledging his competitors. "Primary contests are not easy and they are not supposed to be," he notes, adding that those who worry about the impact of the highly negative primary contest should not fear: "A competitive primary does not divide us, it prepares us. And we will win! And when we gather back here in Tampa for our convention ours will be a united party with a winning ticket for America."

And from there, Romney dives straight into an attack on Obama.

8:30 pm. The Romney family is taking the stage at the Romney victory party in Florida. "Thank you Florida!" says a beaming Ann Romney, who goes on to thank key campaign supporters and endorsers.

8:00 p.m. CNN and NBC News are projecting that Mitt Romney will win the Florida primary.

7:45 p.m. The next GOP presidential primary debate -- and next big opportunity for someone to change the narrative of the race -- won't be until February 22. Before that happens, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum -- should they all stay in the race -- will have to weather the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 4, the Maine caucuses February 4-11, the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses on February 7, and the Missouri primary on February 7. Gingrich won't be appearing on the ballot in Missouri, having failed to meet a filing deadline in the state.

7:33 p.m. The U.S. House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report offers his take:

7:26 p.m. This is no Iowa replay. Early returns show Romney with 50 percent of the vote. No Mr. 25 Percent, he.

7:21 p.m. Bachmann, Hunstman, Perry -- all gone. You know who hasn't dropped out of the running yet? Buddy Roemer. GQ's Marin Cogan caught up with the quixotic Republican candidate in Orlando.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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