Call Mitt Romney the comeback kid of Florida.
The former Massachusetts governor handily won the state’s Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, multiple news outlets projected shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m.
Heading into the GOP primary in the Sunshine State, Romney appeared poised to pull off a major victory after a bitter fight in recent days with chief rival Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich on Tuesday placed second in the contest, followed by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
A Romney victory was anything but certain just a week ago when the former Massachusetts governor found himself scrambling to stop Gingrich’s momentum after a very bad week.
In just the span of several days, Romney’s inevitability as nominee had seemed to disappear. First, Romney learned that he actually didn’t win the Iowa caucuses and instead, Santorum could claim the honor.
Romney then lost the South Carolina primary to Gingrich after leading in the polls there for several weeks.
And then following that loss, Romney saw his poll numbers decrease in Florida as Gingrich capitalized on his momentum after his Palmetto State victory. (RELATED: Full coverage of Elections 2012)
But soon that momentum proved to be short-lived. The Romney campaign fired back at Gingrich with a barrage of negative ads questioning his record and highlighting his problems with the House ethics committee during his time as Speaker.
Challenged by a newly aggressive Romney, Gingrich began stumbling in debates, and his ideas for a permanent American moon base were derided as unrealistic and expensive. Romney surged back to the top of the polls despite Gingrich’s attempts to paint him as a “Massachusetts moderate.”
With his chances of victory growing thin and voters heading to the polls, Gingrich did his best to manage expectations before tonight’s vote.
“I’m not going to lose big here,” he told reporters Tuesday.