LEAD: Romney wins big in Florida
Feb 1, 2012, 2:24 GMT
Washington - Mitt Romney was rolling to an easy win Tuesday night in the Florida presidential primary against rival Republican Newt Gingrich, leading 47 per cent to 32 per cent with 80 per cent of precincts reporting.
The win gives the former Massachusetts governor a decisive national lead over the rest of the field, after running neck-and-neck against Gingrich, the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, only days before the Florida vote.
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum lagged behind with 13 per cent, with Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 7 per cent.
Appearing alongside family members before a crowd of supporters in Florida, Romney launched a scathing attack on US President Barack Obama, whom he hopes to face as the GOP nominee in the November general elections.
The United States needs a White House that represents the 'best of America,' and not 'the worst of what Europe has become,' he said, charging Obama with steering the US toward becoming a welfare state with high levels of debt.
To cheers from the crowd of 'Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!' Romney blasted Obama as a poor steward of the economy, pointing to persistent high unemployment and a sluggish recovery from the worst recession in decades.
'Mr President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now its time for you to get out of the way,' Romney said.
Florida's winner-take-all primary gives Romney 50 delegate to the Republican convention in August. He now has 69 delegates, including a win in New Hampshire and a strong performance in Iowa. Of the 1,144 delegates needed to win, Gingrich has 23 from his South Carolina win.
Santorum has 13 delegates and Paul has three.
Romney takes his momentum into caucus votes on Saturday in Maine and Nevada. A few more states follow on February 7 and 28 and March 3, leading up to 'Super Tuesday' on March 6, when 10 states vote.