Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, greets supporters at his Florida primary primary night rally in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Mitt Romney comfortably won the Republican primary Tuesday thanks in large part by sweeping victories in all South Florida counties.
Turnout across the state was 1.67 million voters or 41 percent of the registered Republicans.
The number represents a decrease from 2008’s 1.94 million votes, although on that occasion both parties had their primaries.
"That's a respectable healthy turnout for a single party primary," Secretary of State Kurt Browning said.
Romney’s decisively defeated his chief challenger Newt Gingrich by a 46 percent to 32 percent margin overall, but in South Florida the numbers were even more lopsided as the former governor almost doubled the votes of the former Speaker of the House.
In Miami-Dade County, Romney beat Gingrich by well over a 2 to 1 margin taking home 69,653 votes, compared with Gingrich’s 30,394.
In Broward, the margin was 35,795 for Romney, 22,012 for Gingrich; in Palm Beach it was 45,269 to 23,191; while in Monroe County it was 4,067 to 2,597, respectively.
Overall, South Florida gave Romney 20 percent of his total of 775,985 votes in the state but provided Gingrich with less than 15 percent of his total 533,090 votes in the state.
Despite two televised debates and a barrage of ads, the Republican primary did not translate into a record number of GOP voters heading to the polls.
Top Florida officials pushed to move the state's primary date to Jan. 31 despite the threat of sanctions from national Republicans. The contest took on added significance after Newt Gingrich defeated Romney in South Carolina 10 days ago.
Although Romney routed Gingrich in South Florida, not all his supporters interviewed Tuesday expressed great passion for him.
Mayra Canto, 55, said she voted for the former Massachusetts governor, but she also called him "the best of the worst."
"I consider him to be more honest and with less baggage than the others," the 55-year-old Canto said as she ordered coffee at Versailles Restaurant, a well-known political hub in Miami's Little Havana.
Mario Denis, 36, said he planned to see how busy the polls were before going to vote. If he makes it into the voting booth, his vote will be for Romney, even though Denis said he wasn't happy about the candidate's foreign policy.
"The way I see it, it's the lesser of two evils," said Denis, who also was at Versailles.
Romney's business experience swayed some voters concerned about the economic recovery. Others simply saw him as the candidate with the best chance of defeating President Barack Obama in the general election.
"He has a grasp of economics and business that the other candidates don't have," Tony Dowel said after voting for Romney at St. Edward Church in Palm Beach.
The 75-year-old retired stockbroker also supported Romney four years ago.
"I want to vote for a winner," Dowel said.
Gingrich had momentum coming off his South Carolina primary win, but Romney and his allies poured more than $14 million into Florida television advertising, primarily to attack Gingrich — a tactic that turned off some voters.
Sarah Agner of Miami said she would vote for Romney because he has "good values and morals," but she said the negative ad campaigns had soured her on politics.
"The candidates are more interested in throwing each other under the bus than focusing on the issues," said Agner, 37, who is studying to be a paralegal.
Retiree Dorothy Anderson said Romney's ads pushed her to vote for Gingrich, the former House speaker and Georgia congressman.
"The dirty ads really turned me off on Mitt Romney," she said after voting at a Pinellas Park retirement community. "In fact, if he gets the nomination, I probably won't vote for him."
Gingrich's baggage swayed retiree Curtis Dempsey against Gingrich. Dempsey, also voting at the retirement community, said he would sit out the general election if Gingrich wins the Republican nomination.
"Well, the only thing Newt Gingrich has to offer is a big mouth and he's been showing that for some time," Dempsey said. "Plus he got kicked out of the Congress. He was the lead man there for a while. How do you get kicked out of the Congress and then run for president of the United States?"
Gingrich resigned after a spate of ethics problems and a poor showing for House Republicans in the 1998 elections.
His supporters called him the "real conservative" in the Republican race.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul have ceded Florida's vote to the two front-runners and planned to spend the day campaigning in Colorado and Nevada, but their supporters made themselves visible Tuesday.
A Paul supporter in the parking lot of a Miami polling station handed out fliers comparing all the Republican candidates with the Texas congressman.
Sandra Brady, 65, and her husband cast their votes for Santorum at a Palm Beach church. The couple, formerly of Indiana, Pa., said they have been familiar with Santorum's politics for years.
"He's the guy that has never wavered," Brady said of Santorum, a social conservative. "He has been what he is today since the first time I ever heard him."