Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney earned a double-digit victory in last night’s Florida Republican presidential primary, as he fought off criticism from rivals and a possible surge by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Romney, who has won every Republican primary contest thus far except for a defeat in South Carolina on Jan. 21, seized 46 percent of the vote, outpacing his nearest rival, Gingrich, by 14 percent. The victory extends the frontrunner’s lead as the nomination process winds toward his home state of Michigan on Feb. 28, University professors and students said last night.

Speaking in front of supporters at his victory party in Tampa, Fla., Romney confidently cast himself as the GOP’s likely nominee. He said he was eager “to lead this party and our party and our nation,” criticizing President Barack Obama for a lack of leadership.

“Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it’s time to get out of the way,” he said at the event.

Romney’s victory in Florida, a state worth 50 delegates at this summer’s Republican National Convention, reestablishes his prospects as the most electable opponent to President Barack Obama in November’s general election, according to LSA junior Brian Koziara, external vice chair of the University’s chapter of the College Republicans, said.

About half of Florida voters reported that electability was the most important factor in their decisions at the polls. Data shows that Romney performed better than Gingrich among elderly and Tea Party voters, two metrics Koziara said Gingrich dominated in past primaries.

Koziara said the margin of victory alone, and as a rebound from his loss in South Carolina a week and a half ago, allowed Romney to regain lost ground after Gingrich handily beat him there.

“If (Gingrich) would’ve gotten Florida, that would’ve signaled that he had a fair shot at possibly challenging Romney on the nomination,” Koziara said. “The fact now that Newt only has South Carolina and Romney won big in New Hampshire and Florida, which are two states he’s going to need in the general election — I think that’s important.”

By failing to capitalize on his South Carolina win, Gingrich may have missed an opportunity to maintain his staying power in the race, Koziara said. Though the former Speaker said in a speech last night that he would continue to campaign voraciously in upcoming states, Koziara said the fact that many of those states are “Romney-friendly” further jeopardized his chances of earning the Republican nomination.

Koziara said he’s confident that Romney will win Michigan, adding that he believes Romney will likely need to wait until Super Tuesday — when 11 states hold their primaries on March 6 — to have a chance to lock up the Republican nomination.

Michigan Republican Party spokesman Matt Frendewey said all of the candidates are expected to campaign in Michigan, barring any candidates from dropping out of the race — a possibility Koziara said he did not expect of any of the candidates, with the exception of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Frendewey said he is anxiously awaiting the Michigan primary, because he expects the state’s Republican voters to come out in force to knock out Obama out of the White House.

“Michigan Republicans are fired up,” Frendewey said. “They’re ready for change. They’re tired of the failed policies of President Barack Obama.”

He said the state’s Republican voters might be particularly incensed by what he said were the president’s failed promises on health care, the financial deficit and the rising cost of higher education.

University students expressed mixed sentiments on their attention to the Republican contests, though some said they would watch the Michigan primary at the end of the month, which coincides with the University’s spring break.

LSA juniors Thomas Jones and Lois Dodson said they were following the race somewhat closely, having watched a few of the debates, though added they would likely be more attentive to the Michigan primary and the general election.

Engineering sophomore Olivia Nordquist agreed that she would tune into the Michigan primary at the end of the month. She said she thought results of the primary might be telling in terms of the state’s transformation since the last general election.

“Michigan will be a state that matters because we have such a strong Democratic base,” Nordquist said. “But right now we’re a Republican state. So I think my vote will matter.”

The next contest in the Republican race will be held in Nevada on Feb. 4, followed by Maine, Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota the following week. The Michigan primary, along with the primary in Arizona, will be held on Feb. 28.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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