But as Romney celebrated his win, a closer look at the returns showed the former Massachusetts governor still has a long way to go to win the hearts and minds of most Republicans.
Gingrich still carried several rural counties in Florida, including the very conservative north. He lost votes to Santorum and Paul, votes that could have made it a much closer race.
And he is still favored by many Republicans in GOP southern strongholds.
“Gingrich is down but he is far from out,” GOP strategist Arnold Block told Capitol Hill Blue. “The right-wing base of the GOP is still looking for an alternative to Romney.”
Romney has the money, the organization and the manpower to capture the nomination but the fight will be long, bitter and fractional for a party that needs to find unity if it wants to take the White House away from President Barack Obama in November.
As candidates head to Nevada for Saturday’s caucuses, GOP leaders huddle behind closed doors to see what — if anything — can be done to get Gingrich out of the race and replace him with a better candidate to sell to conservatives.
“Gingrich has too much baggage,” grumbles one long-time GOP consultant. “He loves playing the spoiler and boy he is stinking up the place right now.”
Gingrich lacks any organization in Nevada where Florida fourth-place finisher Paul may emerge as the leading “anybody but Romney” contender. The former speaker faces a tough February with most caucuses in states where he isn’t expected to do well.