Voters in Florida head to polls for Republican presidential primary

The Takeaway

Polls are open for voters in Florida for the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary.

Some 2 million ballots are expected to be cast, when you count the more than 600,000 already cast during early voting.

Polls in Florida are open until 7 p.m. local time. The vast majority of Florida’s polling places are in the eastern time zone, but a relative handful in the far western panhandle are in central time, meaning the vast majority of results will start to come in while some Floridians are still voting.

Gingrich, Romney Spar in Bitter Florida Race

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An estimate from Nate Silver’s popular 538 blog at the New York Times predicts Mitt Romney has a 97 percent chance of winning the Florida primary, according to a statistical analysis of polls, early voting and demographics. According to Silver, Romney’s margin of victory will be in the vicinity of 15 point.

“The shift away from Newt Gingrich in the Florida polls has been as significant as the one toward him in South Carolina. The first two polls released after South Carolina showed Mr. Gingrich with a lead of 8 and 9 points, respectively. But the news has gotten worse for him almost every day,” Silver writes.

Gingrich has publicly held out hope for victory, latching onto specific polls that showed him narrowing the gap with Romney in the last days of the campaign. In no recent poll, however, has Gingrich actually held a lead.

On Monday, Romney publicly allowed that he expected to win Florida.

“I’m beginning to feel we might win,” Romney said.

His aides, according to The New York Times, are hoping that the margin of victory will be large — at least as big as Gingrich’s 12-point victory in South Carolina and preferably even big. Their hope is with a large enough victory, Romney can finally claim the mantle of presumptive nominee without constantly worrying which Republican challenger will become the flavor of the week.

For his part, Gingrich said he’s not dropping out until the convention, no matter what the results of the Florida primary are.

After Tuesday’s primary, the election season kicks into high gear. There are caucuses on Saturday in Colorado and Maine, then in Colorado and Minnesota next Tuesday, plus a non-binding primary election in Missouri.

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