Polling places in Florida opened at 7 a.m. this morning. Newt Gingrich stopped by one at the First Baptist Church of Windemere, where ABC's Jon Karl asked him about his post-Florida plans:
I asked Newt Gingrich how much longer the battle for the Republican nomination will go on. He told me "six or eight months" and then added: "unless Romney drops out earlier."
When I asked what he says to those who say the race will effectively be over if he loses big in Florida, Gingrich said, "You mean those who said I was dead in June? Those who said I was dead in December? They are about as accurate as they were the last two times they were wrong."
Gingrich has a handful of events scheduled for the rest of the day—his election HQ in "Imperial" Polk County, Fred's Southern Kitchen in Plant City (home of the world-famous Strawberry Festival), the Disney-founded rich-person oasis known as Celebration, and a vote tally party on International Drive. Seeing as all four of those stops are on the I-4 corridor, there's a good chance Gingrich will actually be on time to some of them; I'll be reporting from the latter two. (He's been chronically late to events for the last several days, in some cases as late as an hour. As my grandmother said yesterday, "That will not do. Old folks down here are always on time. We don't like to be kept waiting.")
Drive-time DJs this morning are dedicating their programming to talking about the election, even though 603,000 early voting ballots had already been cast as of yesterday (that's more than the 601,000 GOPers who voted in all of South Carolina.) Polls will stay open to 7 p.m.
Some quick takes:
– SaintPetersBlog: "51 percent of people who voted early say they voted for Romney."
– Nine candidates appear on the ballot, according to the St. Pete Tampa Bay Times, which has already done some exit polling: "I voted for Newt Gingrich but I'm honestly not sure why," one woman told the paper.
– Five Thirty Eight gives Romney a 97 percent chance of winning Florida, and currently has him polling 44 percent to Gingrich's 29.3 percent.
– Immigration advocacy group America's Voice has Romney winning the Cuban vote, both in the primary and the general, but losing the wider Hispanic vote: "The Hispanic Florida primary voter is a Cuban American voter. However, Cubans comprise only 5% of the nation's Hispanic voters, and not all of them vote Republican in the general. This share is a far cry from the 40% of Hispanic voters needed by any GOP nominee to win the White House."
– Tampa's WiLD 94.1, a hip-hop station that broadcasts as far east as Lakeland (where Gingrich's Polk County HQ is located), dedicated their morning show to discussing candidates' personal lives. A number of callers said that Romney strapping his dog's kennel to the roof of the family vehicle for a road trip was unforgivable. But the most fascinating call came from a woman who said her close friend trains service dogs, and that Newt Gingrich once complained to an airline employee that the woman got to board the plane with her service dog before he was allowed into first class.