Photograph by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.
UPDATE: With 98 percent of precincts reporting, CNN reports that Mitt Romney took 48 percent of the votes in Florida yesterday.
Trailing behind Romney were Newt Gingrich at 32 percent, Rick Santorum at 17 percent, and Ron Paul at 7 percent.
Looking at the exit polls, Gingrich still had significant support from the most conservative of voters in the state, slightly beating Romney (39 percent to 38 percent) in the conservative Florida panhandle.
While Romney won the broader categories of "conservative" voters and tea party supporters, Gingrich came out ahead with the narrower classifications of the most conservative, winning among those who are "very conservative," evangelical Christians, "strong" supporters of the tea party, and among those who thought abortion was the most important issue for them as a voter.
After 51 percent of the unofficial count, Romney had 48 percent of the vote, compared to 31 percent for Newt Gingrich.
The victory will give Romney all 50 of Florida's delegates.
Post Tuesday, Jan. 31: Voting is under way in the Florida primary, with many analysts already pretty confident that Mitt Romney will take the state. Barring any surprises, the big question for tonight seems to be just how large the margin of victory will be and, moving forward, how Newt Gingrich's camp will react to his likely loss.
The Associated Press reports the GOP officials are predicting upwards of 2 million voters will cast ballots, which would beat the state's current record turnout of 1.9 million set in 2008 during the Republican primary. More than 605,000 people have already voted, either at early voting stations or as absentee voters—a good sign for Romney, whose team has been aggressive with its early-voting campaign in the Sunshine State.
Romney is so happy that he's bursting into song, as Slate's Dave Weigel reported from Florida last night.
The networks will wait until after the polls close at 8 p.m. on the East Coast to call the race, but the prediction game is already underway. Nate Silver of the Five Thirty-Eight blog at the New York Times is forecasting 44 percent for Romney, 29 percent for Gingrich, 14 percent for Santorum, and 11 percent for Paul. He's also identified three important thresholds to watch for in the race: Romney taking Florida by a 10-point margin, Romney's total besting that of Gingrich and Santorum combined, and Romney taking a majority (more than 50 percent of votes) in the state. Each indicates a progressively stronger chance for Romney to shore up the nomination.
Florida's GOP primary is a winner-take-all affair, with 50 delegates going to the first-place finisher and 0 delegates being awarded to everyone else. That's the largest number of delegates up for grabs in any primary to date, although only a fraction of the the total number a candidate will need to earn the nomination.