University of Virginia political guru Larry Sabato tells Newsmax that Mitt Romney’s victory in the Florida primary on Tuesday was a “turning point,” but not a “game-ender,” for Newt Gingrich’s presidential hopes.
Sabato also predicts that despite the mud-slinging and negativity in the campaign, the “vast majority” of Republicans will still vote for the GOP candidate in November — and says he intends to “press” Romney to disclose who is behind his super PAC money.
Sabato is a political science professor, author, and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. He is also the founder of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an online newsletter providing free political analysis.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV, Sabato offers his view on the Florida primary, which gave Romney 46 percent of the vote and Gingrich, 32 percent.
“The primary was a turning point for Mitt Romney,” he says.
“It’s a big victory, and as a result he is well on his way to getting the nomination. Is it a certainty? Things are never certain in politics until they happen.
“I’m not going to go so far as to say it’s a game-ender, because that implies that we aren’t going to have other winners in other states.
“I don’t think Romney will win everything from here on out. It’s simply that when you look at the math, who has the resources, who has the organization and the money, there is really no one who can compete with Romney across the entire map.”
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The two debates in Florida before the primary “did matter,” Sabato says. “They’ve mattered at every stage in this campaign. We’ve never had 19 debates in a presidential race in either party, so this has been truly remarkable.
“These two Florida debates were among Romney’s best, and Newt Gingrich acknowledged as much. He didn’t do as well as he did in the debates in South Carolina.”
Sabato also says Romney benefitted from the large senior vote in the Sunshine State. “The senior population is enormous, and on the Republican side Mitt Romney cleaned up among those 65 and older.”
The Romney campaign spent $15 million in Florida, while Gingrich and his supporters spent just $3 million. Asked whether Romney “bought” the victory, Sabato responds: “If you want to put it that way, I guess you could say that all elections are bought, and that in the vast majority of cases you find that the person who spent the most won the election.
“Did it make a big difference for Romney? Sure. Was that the only element in his defeat of Gingrich? No.”
Gingrich has said he can do well in states that divvy up their delegates by percentages of votes won as opposed to winner-take-all primaries like Florida.
Sabato observes: “He could certainly gather some delegates and have an influence on the convention platform, could potentially be nominated for president, could get a prime-time address. There are a lot of things that could come from getting delegates but winning the nomination I think is a bridge too far.”
Sabato was asked at what point Rick Santorum and Ron Paul will drop out of the race, and where their votes will go if they do.
“Ron Paul will not drop out at all,” he tells Newsmax.
“I think we can be almost 100 percent certain of that. He’ll go to the convention with whatever he’s got.
“The polling studies of Santorum’s vote indicate that if he were to withdraw, his voters would split between Gingrich and Romney. Gingrich would not inherit anything close to 100 percent.”
The GOP race has grown increasingly nasty, with one group reporting that 92 percent of all Florida ads were negative. Asked whether it is the nastiest race ever, Sabato says: “It is one of the nastiest. I hate to say the nastiest because we’ve had so many in both parties. Let’s not forget that the Obama-Clinton race in 2008 wasn’t exactly a Sunday afternoon picnic.
“These contests can get very tough, very negative. There are consequences for that. But it’s also true that by November the odds are the vast majority of Republicans will be voting for the Republican nominee.
“The major problem is it has lowered the favorability of all Republicans. It’s also kept them from training their fire on President Obama. They’ve been training it on themselves instead. That isn’t helpful but in and of itself it isn’t a deal-breaker for November.”
As of Wednesday morning Romney’s Super PACs had not yet disclosed their donors as required. Sabato declares: “They’re supposed to. I certainly intend to press that and I think a lot of other people do as well.
“Disclosure ought to be automatic. It should be instantaneous. There’s really no excuse for not disclosing one’s donors in this day and age.”
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