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I'm not a big believer in reading too much into the results of a single election. But I did think that Jim Geraghty did a nice job of highlighting the important things to notice about what happened yesterday. Geraghty pointed to five realities that could affect the race going forward. His first point was one that I think is significant:
The gender gap returned with a vengeance.
As odd as it sounds, I think that Newt might benefit politically if more of his ex-wives would come out shortly before each race and blast him personally. That's exactly what happened in South Carolina, leading to a masterful moment at a debate that turned Newt into a sympathetic victim rather than a serial adulterer in the eyes of many voters. That included women, whom Gingrich carried over Mitt 38-29.
Fast-forward to Florida, and Gingrich was overwhelmed by Mitt in the race for women 51-29. Newt offered no explanation for why this happened, but if it continues, it's a major factor.
The elderly abandoned Newt: Throughout the primaries, voters 65 and older have been Gingrich's strongest demographic. Newt has won a larger share of voters in this age group than any other. He won 17 percent among this group in Iowa (second only to Romney), 14 percent in New Hampshire (third behind Romney and Jon Huntsman), and 47 percent in South Carolina (ahead by a wide margin).
There are any number of reasons why Newt would do well among the elderly: everything from his age to his past successes, his ability to speak plainly and honestly about issues facing older Americans. But in a state that boasts a large percentage of retired people, Newt's weak performance in this demographic is somewhat concerning. Whoever the Republican nominee is in November will need to be able to reach this sector of the population.
Geraghty goes on to talk about the significant effect of early voting and also the regionalization factor (winning certain parts of the state by certain margins). All of that insider stuff is neat to political junkies, but doesn't factor into the larger themes that affect the general narrative of the race. But Geraghty's other remaining point was one that should be getting attention:
Romney ran stronger among evangelicals than the narrative suggests: We have heard, seemingly endlessly, that Romney would have deep-rooted problems with the key Republican demographic of voters who describe themselves as evangelical or born-again. Some have pointed to Romney's Mormon faith as a key obstacle, but, as Byron York pointed out, polling indicates that Democrats and independents are actually more likely to express an unwillingness to vote for a Mormon.
in Florida . . . evangelicals warmed up to Romney. Not by a ton, but by enough to deny Gingrich a big win in a demographic that was central to Gingrich (and for that matter, Santorum as well). Gingrich won among self-identified white evangelical or born-again Christians, 39 percent to 36 percent. But Romney actually won the overall Protestant vote, 41 percent to 37 percent.
While this point does potentially impact the coming Republican primary states, it's a bigger story heading into the general election should Mitt be the nominee. This is my point: if evangelicals will support Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum in a primary, there's going to be no issue with them supporting him over Barack Obama in the general. That takes away a major media talking point going forward.