ORLANDO, Fla. -- Not long from now, I'll arrive at Newt Gingrich's election night party here in central Florida. If you're buying InTrade stock on Gingrich, come on by -- in case of an upset, you're about to become a rich, rich, Croeses-rich man.
Internet willing, I'll provide updates from the party and analyses of what's happening in the state. My main resource -- again, Internet willing -- will be Florida's own elections page. At this link, the state displays results overall and results by county. Pay attention to the counties. Don't be the schmuck who breaks his Twitter thumb reporting on the candidate-by-candidate results when 1 percent has been counted! Read Adam Smith's breakdown of the key counties, and track them -- Pinnellas, Seminole, Miami-Dade, Duval, and Escambia. And compare them to the results from the 2008 primary. That year, John McCain was the moderate candidate, the choice of veterans, the choice of most Hispanic voters. This year, Mitt Romney's attempting to do that, but do it better. (2008 exits: Here.)
As exit polls become available, you can read them here. The Drudge Report, so recently bemoaned by Fred Thompson as a fount of pro-Romney sentiment, isn't hiding it tonight:
But that's lousy expectation setting! In Iowa, early entrance polls gave Romney a narrow lead over Rick Santorum; it vanished with the final count. In New Hampshire, early exits showed Romney dominant, but final results pushed his total under 40 percent. In South Carolina, each wave of exit polls showed Newt Gingrich's lead increasing.
I keep warning that the Internet may fail me. This is the sad voice of experience, of too many election nights where my updates only went up after the confetti was scraped away. If this page is slow, check @daveweigel on Twitter, where I'll be updating news from the party all night.
In the meantime: Predictions!
- When will the election be called, and for whom? (I say Romney at 8:10 p.m.)
- What's Romney's final vote percentage? (My guess: 42 percent.)
7:41: I've arrived at the Gingrich party, where this oh-so-subtle sign stands in front of the podium the speaker will... er, speak at:
Earlier, I talked to Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond, who confirmed that the candidate would travel to Nevada and stay there until the February 4 caucus. After that: A delegate hunt in February. "There are delegates to win in Michigan," said Hammond -- the state's primary, which Romney is universally expected to win, isn't winner-take-all.
Look to the future, because there's nobody here. In South Carolina, party-goers were treated to free finger foods -- cheese dip, bruscetta -- and a cheap bar. In the room tonight: Two pricey cash bars, discovered more or less instantly by people coming downstairs from an unrelated convention.
7:53: The non-panhandle vote is coming in quickly, faster than the traffic at Gingrich's party. With 38 percent reporting, Mitt Romney has a 176,000 vote lead. I'm going to lose my bet. This will be called at 8 p.m.
And yet... the county by county breakdown, which shows Romney doing far better than he needs, shows a different coalition forming than the one Romney built in his 2008 run. Look at Clay County, near the first coast. In 2008, Mitt Romney beat John McCain 42-29 there -- a clear victory for the designated "conservative" in the race. Tonight, Gingrich is winning it 43-37. And there's the problem: Romney's doing so much better than 2008, with a different base, that he's easily outpacing the conservative vote.
8:00: I lost the bet. Fox News called the race for Mitt Romney at 8 p.m., instantly. Here's what it looked like at Newt HQ.
Most of the people in the shot are reporters.
8:06: When a candidate loses like this, and no one's in the room, the poor, poor diehards are subjected to a battery of media interviews. As I talked to Frank Butler, a Navy veteran who'd volunteered for Gingrich, three reporters dived in to interview his wife Marilyn. One of them was Larry Sinclair.
If you're a regular tabloid reader, you remember Sinclair as the guy who claimed to have snorted blow and performed a certain sexual act on a young Barack Obama. He self-published a book on the matter (subtitle: "Sex, Lies, and Murder?") and went to Obama campaign stops to tell the story to reporters. That was all behind him.
"I'm here as a journalist," he explained. "People like talking to me, because I publish it unvarnished and unedited." I took a photo, so he took a photo of me, and went back to work.
8:19: What do we learn from the exit polls?
- There's a Newt-Mitt gender gap. Romney won men by only 5 points, but crushed Gingrich by 22 points among female voters.
- Romney won the Hispanic vote by 23 points. In 2008, McCain won it 54-14 over Romney.
- Gingrich remains the Tea Party's candidate, winning "strong supporters" of the movement by 13 points.
- Remember the "kosher meal" robocall? It might have been even stupider than you thought. In 2008, 3 percent of Republican voters were Jewish. This year: 1 percent.
8:31: Also at the Newt party: Lloyd Marcus, the honey-voiced balladeer of the Tea Party Express. His new(ish) group, the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, had officially endorsed Gingrich and put a five-figure ad buy on the air in Nevada. "Newt is the candidate of the Tea Party," he explained. "We can't trust Romney."
Marcus likes to take popular songs and give them new Tea Party-themed lyrics. Did he have a song for Gingrich?
"I hadn't even thought about that!" he said. Without a second thought, he crooned:
Ceeeeeeelebrate good times, GO NEWT!
8:49: Here's the 2008 to 2012 surge, in bright colors. (Thanks to CNN for the maps.) First, 2008 -- Romney is in dark red.
This was a less divided vote, and while Romney has lost a few northern counties he won last time, I can't find any county where he's winning fewer overall votes.
9:05: It behooves me to point out that Gingrich is only on the ballot in 45 more states, having missed the cut in Virginia. He's got chances to win delegates in all of the territories and Washington, D.C., though. Perhaps his new slogan is assuming statehood for the district?
9:12: In his victory speech, Romney says "President Obama orders religious organizations to violate their conscience; I will defend religious liberty and overturn regulations that trample on our first freedom." For all the screeching about Gingrich's "war on religion" claim, isn't this basically the same thing?"
9:28: Gingrich's speech concludes. It's not really notable that he riffs without a teleprompter and revisits his stump speech. Or that he thanks his daughters, with statements like "Cathy did a whole series of Spanish language media, which helped us tremendously." It was striking that he went right from thanking his family, into the stump speech, without mentioning the man who won: Mitt Romney. Gingrich did not concede onstage, and I'm not he didn't call the Romney camp to concede in private -- here or in New Hampshire.
9:38: At his South Carolina party, Gingrich spoke before a banner with a new slogan: "Unleash the American people, rebuild the America we love." Not on display anywhere tonight: That slogan. Instead, we got "46 States to Go." This actually isn't unheard of (Romney briefly used the slogan "CHANGE begins with us" after Obama won Iowa), but add another example of Gingrich just kind of rolling with a brand new idea, then dropping it.
9:45: Tomorrow's narrative today: Romney got more votes than Gingrich and Santorum combined. With 96 percent of precincts in, Romney's got 758,425 votes to 518,465 for Gingrich and 216,999 for Santorum. It's close, but that result gives Romney 22,961 more votes than the conservatives.
And there's this, from the exit poll:
Gingrich (or Santorum) has real work to do to consolidate this vote. Step one: Stop Romney from winning most of it.
10:00: I can think of no better way to close this thread than with this video, featuring the commentary of Lloyd Marcus.