As expected, Mitt Romney cruised to an easy primary win over Newt Gingrich in Florida, getting his campaign back on track after a tough loss in South Carolina. The former governor had to spend over $15 million to buy the victory, but Romney leaves the Sunshine State with everything he wants: momentum, frontrunner status, and renewed talk of "inevitability."
What happens now? February won't feature the high-profile contests of January, but there are still some races to keep an eye on.
Feb. 4: Nevada caucuses: Romney, who won Nevada four years ago, appears to have the advantage, especially given that Gingrich hasn't had the time or resources to even organize much of a campaign in the state, and doesn't appear to be making much of an effort. Ron Paul, however, ignored Florida and has focused some attention on Nevada, and is expected to do fairly well.
Feb. 7: Minnesota caucuses: A recent Public Policy Polling survey showed Gingrich with a big lead over Romney, suggesting it's the next contest that can help the former Speaker keep pace with the frontrunner.
Feb. 7: Colorado caucuses: Romney easily won this state four years ago, and is generally expected to do so again.
Feb. 7: Missouri nonbinding primary: As Nate Silver explained over the weekend, Missouri "will hold a primary on Feb. 7, but it has no direct or indirect effect on delegate allocation, which will instead be determined in its March caucuses." Romney shouldn't have too much trouble -- Gingrich didn't qualify for the ballot.
Feb. 11: Maine caucuses: Maine holds a week-long process, and while Ron Paul has been making an effort in the state, Romney's regional advantage is expected to give him the edge.
Feb. 28: Arizona primary: At least some polling suggests the state will be competitive, but at this point, it's hard to predict.
Feb. 28: Michigan primary: Arguably the most interesting contest in February, Michigan should be an easy one for Romney -- he's from the state and his father was governor -- but there's ample evidence that he struggles with the kind of working-class voters who will dominate the primary.
As for upcoming debates, which Gingrich would love to use to put himself back in contention, there are no debates scheduled again until Feb. 22 -- three weeks from today.
The result is a landscape that appears to favor the frontrunner. Gingrich will have more time to be a thorn in Romney's side, but he'll need more money from Sheldon Adelson and far more success in consolidating the anti-Romney vote. With Rick Santorum sticking around, at least for now, that's likely to prove challenging.
For his part, the former Speaker said yesterday he's ready to keep fighting for "six or eight months ... unless Romney drops out earlier."