The Florida primary may have delivered a decisive victory for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but the exit polls also revealed a bright spot for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — the tea party.
Gingrich racked up a decisive victory of his own among voters who said they “strongly support” the tea party movement, according to exit poll data compiled by Fox News.
Overall, 45 percent of those voters chose Gingrich over Romney, who finished with just 33 percent of support from strong supporters of the tea party movement. The tea party is also thought to have played a key role in Gingrich’s come-from-behind victory over Romney in South Carolina.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — often referred to as the conservative candidate along with Gingrich — drew 17 percent support from voters who said they strongly support the tea party.
“It tells me that if we could get the Santorum supporters to join Gingrich we could easily defeat Romney,” declared conservative Florida tea party leader Patricia Sullivan in an exclusive interview with Newsmax on Wednesday.
Sullivan, who founded the Patriot Army and co-founded the North Lake Tea Party in Florida, said Sunshine State exit polls prove Gingrich was the clear choice of tea party voters.
There were just not enough of them to carry the state.
“I think in Florida, when you looked at the exit polls, it was very telling,” she said. “I hear there are now, I think, over 300 tea party leaders across America that are part of the tea party coalition for Newt Gingrich. So, from what I have seen, I would see the tea party as definitely trending toward Newt overwhelmingly.”
Conversely, Florida voters who “somewhat oppose” the tea party overwhelmingly picked Romney, by a margin of 62 percent to 17 percent for Gingrich, and 11 percent for Santorum.
“They would probably identify themselves as the liberal part of the Republican Party,” Sullivan said. “I’ve met many people in the Republican Party that make me scratch my head and say, ‘Why are you a Republican because you don’t espouse to any of the Republican values?’ ”
Similarly, voters who identified themselves as neutral in their feelings toward the tea party movement also chose Romney by a margin of 57 percent to 22 percent for Gingrich and 10 percent for Santorum.
“That tells me that these are people who live in their homes, sit on their sofa and watch TV and have no idea what’s going on in the world,” added Sullivan.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, a tea party favorite, will undoubtedly be under considerable pressure to endorse a candidate before the Feb. 7 caucuses in her home state of Minnesota, according to Sullivan.
Bachmann Wednesday morning denied rumors that she plans to throw her support behind Romney with just one week to go before The North Star State caucuses.
“I think Michele Bachmann is probably under tremendous pressure to endorse, and I hope and I pray that when she decides to endorse, she does it not for money, not for political gain ... that she does it for what is best for America,” said Sullivan.
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