WASHINGTON (JTA) — Mitt Romney won the Florida Republican primary by a wide margin.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, finished with 47 percent of the vote on Tuesday to easily outdistance ex-U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had 32 percent. Romney is a relative moderate who has struggled to appeal to the GOP’s conservative base.
The race was bitter, and the candidates competed hard for the Jewish vote in Florida.
Gingrich in the final days ran a robocall reviving a 2003 story in which Romney as governor vetoed funding for kosher kitchens in homes for the elderly. Romney had not made the original cuts targeting the kitchens and the legislature overrode his veto.
Candidates and their surrogates made appearances at Jewish events, and the Obama campaign chose the week prior to the GOP primary to open its Florida operation, with an emphasis on targeting Jewish voters.
Jewish turnout was low in a primary that was closed to all but registered Republicans, but the state GOP believes it can attract disgruntled Jewish independents and Democrats in the general election.
Much of the race focused on the troubled economy in a state where home foreclosures run high.
In his victory speech, Romney said he would repeal the health care reform passed under President Obama, cut spending and balance the budget without raising taxes.
He only alluded to Israel, saying, "I will stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends around the world."
The two other candidates, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), received 13 and 7 percent of the vote, respectively.
The next state to vote is Nevada, which hosts a caucus on Saturday.
It was the second primary victory for Romney, who had won in New Hampshire. Gingrich took South Carolina in the run-up to Florida, while Santorum edged Romney in the Iowa caucus at the start of the primary season.