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Florida is a tie-breaker but no game-ender

By Candy Crowley, CNN Chief Political Correspondent
January 30, 2012 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
  • All four GOP candidates say they'll stay in the race no matter what happens in Florida
  • Gingrich looks ahead to states that divide candidates proportionally
  • Romney says he's confident that in the long haul, he'll get the delegates to win the nomination
  • Paul, Santorum say they're looking past Florida and not giving up

Washington (CNN) -- The four survivors of the Republican primary process intend to keep on keeping on after Florida. They all see the White House from their campaign headquarters.

Newt Gingrich thinks he can muddy up a clean win by Mitt Romney by doing well in states that divvy up delegates by percentages won.

"The fact is, once you get beyond Florida, these are all proportional representation states, and he's not going to be anywhere near a majority by April. And so this is going to go on all the way to the convention," the former House speaker told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.

Looking to caucus states where dedicated followers might produce outsized results, Ron Paul also depends on the law of political gravity.

"We're going to stay in and see what comes of it. And who knows what will come of the other two candidates," the Texas congressman told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "You know, there's been lots of ups and downs. So maybe there will be some downs and we might be able to pick up the pieces."

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Steady, sure and underfunded, Rick Santorum needs a miracle -- like Iowa, but on time and bigger. He needs a tumble from the top to leave space for him to step in as Gingrich without the baggage.

"We're doing great, but we're in this for the long haul," Santorum told CNN's "The Situation Room" on Friday. "We just weren't going to go and spend every dime in a huge state like Florida."

Ever the CEO, Romney is a numbers cruncher -- figuring in the highs, he patiently awaits a return on his investment.

"This is a campaign that is going to go the distance. I'm confident we're going to get the delegates we need and that despite all of the ups and downs of the campaign, in the final analysis, if I do my job right, get our supporters motivated, why we'll be able to take the prize," Romney told supporters in South Carolina earlier this month.

But even if the Florida results do not change the players, they will surely change the game.

Florida is not Rick Santorum's Iowa, dismissed as too white, too rural, and with a lousy record of choosing winners. Nor is it Romney's New Hampshire,discounted by critics as a hometown win.

And Florida is not Gingrich's South Carolina, downgraded by naysayers as an oversampling of evangelicals.

Florida is nobody's home state -- it is populous, diverse, and hard-hit by the economic downturn. There is a constituency for everybody.

Florida is the no-excuses state. A good win here would re-establish Romney as the front-runner, better for his bruises. A nice victory for Gingrich would make him more than a one-state wonder.

Florida could change everything, even if we don't notice for a while.

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