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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Romney Wins Florida

Aired January 31, 2012 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, and a good evening to you. What a night it has been. Welcome to this special edition of A.C. 360. primary night coverage, the biggest contest yet in a key state to victory in November.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Fifty delegates, winner take all. And, tonight, the big winner in Florida by a big margin, Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Mitt Romney is Florida's choice, a win that helps him look like the front-runner again.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A competitive primary doesn't divide us. It prepares us, and we will win.

ANNOUNCER: It's a new setback for Newt Gingrich and his roller- coaster campaign.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to contest every place and we're going to win, and we will be in Tampa as the nominees.

ANNOUNCER: Four candidates with four contests behind them, but the fight for the nomination is just beginning. The votes are in, Florida has spoken, and now the campaign goes west.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And, again, welcome. 360 is live tonight, all the way to the midnight hour, breaking down the results tonight and looking ahead to Nevada.

As always, we have put together a great team of insiders and analysts, correspondents to do that.

Governor Romney the big winner tonight. The question is, what will happen? What happened tonight, will it just be another entry in the win column, or is it a game changer? We will talk about all that shortly.

First, a moment from Governor Romney's victory speech a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: As this primary unfolds, our opponents in the other party have been watching, and they like to comfort themselves with the thought that a competitive campaign will leave us divided and weak. But I have got news for them. A competitive primary does not divide us. It prepares us. And we will win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Joining us now from Romney headquarters, our own Candy Crowley.

Candy, what does the Romney team attribute their win to? I mean, do they admit the money had a lot to do with it? It was the debate performances, what?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They think he put in good debate performance.

They point out the debates really have been influential all the way along. They certainly are what gave rise to Newt Gingrich. They believe that he, meaning Mitt Romney, hit his stride during those debates, but they don't point to a single thing.

They sort of point to the whole thing and say, look, you know, we had the better organization on the ground. They called their turnout team, you know, the unqualified best one in the race at this point. They intend to use that going on.

They just think that they are better prepared at this point to go the distance. They know that they're on every ballot in every state. New Gingrich is not on the Missouri ballot, he's not on the Virginia ballot, and they say, listen, we have $19 million, and, you know, they're going to move ahead. They really believe that here in Florida and in states going out, that they in fact have the superior team and the superior candidate.

I will tell you that they voice some concern about caucuses because they're just not quite the same as the primary states, as you know.

COOPER: Although Nevada has a large Mormon population, which would obviously work in Governor Romney's favor, and also Governor Romney did make inroads among Tea Party members, although they were kind of evenly split with Gingrich.

Perhaps that adds some optimism to the Romney team tonight, Tea Party powerful in Nevada, Candy.

CROWLEY: It absolutely does. That and the female vote. Those were the two things that they were focusing in on as they came into this night. They knew they were going to have a good win, they hoped it would be a double-digit win, but they were looking at the Tea Party numbers because they know the rap on Mitt Romney has been that the conservatives don't like him.

They believe that tonight that was put to rest in terms of -- now we know in the very conservative column, Newt Gingrich did better, but they look at across the board at Santorum and Gingrich and said, listen, Romney did better than both of them. They feel that and the female vote both were key to the victory, and it's bragging points to move on.

COOPER: Candy Crowley, appreciate it from Romney headquarters.

Let's turn now to Gingrich who faced a barrage of attack ads in the last couple weeks, threw plenty of punches himself. He's been vowing to fight until the end, no matter what happened in Florida, and he repeated that vow tonight. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You'll notice that a number of folks are holding up a sign about 46 states to go.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

We did this in part for the elite media, because, you know, the same people who said I was dead in June and July and said I was gone after Iowa, who seemed totally quiet the night of the South Carolina victory, are now going to be back saying, "What's he going to do? What's he going to do? What's he going to do?" So I just want to reassure them tonight: We are going to contest every place, and we are going to win, and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Gingrich earlier tonight.

Let's go to Jim Acosta, who is at Gingrich headquarters.

Is he already on the way to Nevada?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is on his way to Nevada. Anderson, and, you know, Newt Gingrich did promise the moon down here in Florida, but he got his world rocked by Mitt Romney, no doubt about it.

And two signs of the fight to come. One is over my shoulder right now and it says 46 states to go, and you heard Newt Gingrich just talking about that a few moments ago, give or take the Virginia primary, where he didn't make the ballot. But another sign of the fight to come, consider this, Newt Gingrich in his speech tonight did not congratulate Mitt Romney.

I also talked to a spokesman for Newt Gingrich just a few moments ago R.C. Hammond, and confirmed with him that no call was made from Newt Gingrich to Mitt Romney before this speech to congratulate the former Massachusetts governor on his victory here in Florida.

How that sits with voters, conservative voters, Republican voters, I guess that remains to be seen, but it's a sign of just how personal this has become. And I asked R.C. Hammond, I said is this a sign that things All right, very deeply personal between these two candidates? He said, no, it's just a sign that this race is going to go on.

COOPER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Wolf, take it away.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much.

Joining us now from Henderson, Nevada -- that's just outside of Las Vegas -- is Ron Paul, the Texas congressman.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

I know you didn't compete in Florida. Obviously, it showed. You only got 7 percent of the vote, but walk us through your strategy for Nevada, some of these other states in February. How do you see yourself eventually getting the Republican nomination?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you have to break through and get the attention that you can win some states.

We spent some time up in Maine, and there's tremendous support up there. So we're optimistic about that. And now we're over in -- we went through Colorado today. We had three major events, and the crowds were very, very big, and very enthusiastic, so we think we have a good organization there. And that's a caucus state.

Now we're in Nevada, and the same thing goes there. But we will also be in Minnesota. And it's easier for us to compete. You need energy. You need hard workers and people dedicated. They need to believe in something. And then you can compensate for not having $30 million or $50 million to campaign in a state like Florida.

So it lends itself, and we're fortunate that the system still permits individuals like myself to compete, when you compete on the fervor of believing in ideas and having good supporters.

BLITZER: So is money your biggest obstacle? You can't compete really with Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich as far as money and super PACs and all of that, is that the biggest problem you think you face?

PAUL: Well, no, I think it's the biggest. It's a significant one.

I mean, if we would have had endless funds or I would have had the wealth of Ross Perot, I could have competed with Mitt in Florida. So that's a significant thing. But it's also, you know, winning the hearts and minds and getting people to understand that liberty is in their best interest, and that we have to give up the spending.

You know that I'm the only one that has talked about cutting spending. And Republican Parties are supposed to be conservative. They want cutting, but getting the message out, I have to overcome all of the natural obstacles, from getting on the evening news to all these other things, to -- if they want a fiscal conservative, the others haven't even talked about it, and I have talked about cutting a trillion dollars. And where I go, we get loud applauses. But I don't think I have gotten that message out that I actually want to cut some spending. And the others talk about cutting proposed increases over the next 10 years. It's so far removed.

I think if they had one 10th the concern I had in Washington, they would be cutting spending this year, not pretending they are going to cut over the next 10 years. That, to me, is a serious flaw that they have no idea how serious our economic crisis is.

BLITZER: I'm going to mention the three candidates you're challenging right now. And I would like you to give me one sentence or so, if you can, about your biggest concern about each one of them, Mitt Romney first.

PAUL: I don't know whether you need to name all three, because I think their positions are very similar.

I think they endorse a lot more, you know, involvement with our troops overseas, and they are willing to use troops with undeclared wars. And so I would say that all three are in that category. Nobody is really excited about dealing with the Federal Reserve.

I know there's been some comments made, but I don't think anybody else is serious. And that's a major issue. And personal liberty, this whole thing, how many of them talk about maybe we ought to re- look the Patriot Act, and maybe we ought to look at the TSA, and maybe we ought to look at the privacy issue of the American people?

They're all in the same category, and they don't have concerns for that. And I'm a stickler for the Constitution. I think we got in this mess because we don't follow it, we go to war without declaration. We're supposed to have a gold standard. We don't have it. So, I think we can get out of our mess by having people really read the Constitution and obey it.

BLITZER: And even if you don't get the nomination, you know you have already helped set the agenda on many of the most important points that you have been advocating not just this year, but for long, long time.

Congressman, we will continue this conversation down the road. Thanks very much.

PAUL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Congressman Ron Paul joining us from Henderson, Nevada.

He's in it for the duration. He really does want to set the agenda, even if he doesn't get the nomination.

COOPER: Yes. And though he took part in both debates in Florida, he didn't really spend any significant time or money there.

Up next, what you might call the graciousness factor. Jim Acosta mentioned it a moment ago. We're going to look closer at whether it was missing from Newt Gingrich's concession speech tonight. You can decide for yourself.

And Rick Santorum joins us ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome to the primary night edition of A.C. 360.

John King joins us with some new information regarding the Romney campaign.

What are you hearing?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Told by a federal law enforcement source that the Romney campaign, governor Romney will pick up Secret Service protection in the next several days. The decision has been made. They're just working on the logistics and the arrangement.

Trying to figure out exactly how it happened. The campaign can go and ask for the protection and then it's approved by a committee and then they give it. Sometimes the Secret Service comes to the campaign and said it's time to add the protection. Trying to figure out this. No indication at all there are any risks for any threats or anything of the like.

It's part of the growth. If you look at the calendar going to February, early no we go state by state, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, now the candidates start moving around to several states at a time, and that means more airplanes, more rallies, more security threats and opportunities, if you will.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Is he the only Republican candidate who has that?

KING: He would be. Herman Cain had it, remember. Herman Cain picked it up early in the campaign and then he dropped out. Of the existing candidates right now, Romney would be the only one, based on my knowledge.

We will watch and see if Speaker Gingrich or anyone picks it up in the days ahead. Again it can work several different ways. Normally, you get to this point in the campaign and there are ongoing conversations, especially when you get to the multistate, a lot of plane rides and the like. It's not unusual, but it is significant that pretty soon you will see guys with different pins and funny ear pierces around Governor Romney.

COOPER: David, do you make anything of this?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think John is right.

Basically, there are two different reasons why you get protection. One is if there are threats and you're a candidate. Herman Cain I'm sure was in that category, but the other is if you being to get momentum and you get the crowds. If Newt Gingrich would have won tonight, I think he probably would have gotten protection fairly soon.

KING: It wouldn't be unusual for more than one candidate in a primary to have protection. Senator Clinton had it, of course, because she was the former first lady when she was running. And then President Obama I believe was the earliest candidate ever to pick it up when he got in part because then Senator Obama was receiving some threats.

COOPER: Right. An interesting note about Gingrich's tone tonight. Unlike the other three speeches, Gingrich did not directly acknowledge Mitt Romney's victory or in Romney's case have kind words for his opponent. Take a look and compare for yourselves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Three gentlemen are serious and able competitors, and they're still in the race, and I want to congratulate them on another hard-fought contest in this campaign.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I first want to congratulate Governor Romney. He ran a very spirited race and he's to be congratulated for his resounding victory in the state of Florida. So congratulation to Governor Romney.

PAUL: Just a little while ago, I called Governor Mitt Romney and congratulated him. And we had a friend...

(BOOING)

PAUL: No, no, we had a friendly conversation. And I honestly congratulate him. He ran a good campaign.

GINGRICH: Thank you all very, very much. And thank all of you up here.

It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, let's bring the people who do politics for a living, Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Donna Brazile, former Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, also Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.

What do you make of Newt Gingrich not doing that? Is that a small point?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It wasn't entirely graceless. I thought he did congratulate the guy who came in second.

(LAUGHTER) CASTELLANOS: But, no, that's not how you handle the situation.

America understands that the presidency, the buck does stop there. You want somebody who is not prone to instability in the big chair, and an angry candidate that when he loses reacts, it seems, in anger as opposed with moderation isn't -- it doesn't make you look presidential. That could have been handled a lot better this evening.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Another example of the lack of civility in the public square, but Newt Gingrich is nursing a broken nose and a black eye.

I think it's going to take some time for him to turn the other cheek and to be a little gracious to Mitt Romney, who after all just spent more than $13 million demolishing his character, attacking, you know, his campaign, using surrogates to really undermine his message. I think Newt Gingrich has to really retool his campaign and see if he can relaunch it in the states to come.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's more to come in those states to come for Newt, much less for the rest of the folks.

Rick Santorum, who didn't really contest Florida as much, he had family issues, his poor daughter was in the hospital, he's gunning for Newt in Nevada. He's running an ad in Nevada that attacks Gingrich, not Romney. He wants to be the anti-Mitt Romney conservative, and he feels like the path to that is by taking Gingrich out. And he is attacking Newt Gingrich in an attack that attacks Gingrich for being for cap and trade and a health care mandate and the Wall Street bailout.

You could make that same ad about Mitt Romney, but he didn't. The ad does the unkindest thing for a Republican. It links Newt to Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.

(CROSSTALK)

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That ad is also running in Colorado.

The fascinating thing about this race is if anyone can get Mitt Romney one-on-one, he becomes increasingly vulnerable, but Newt is blocking Santorum, and Santorum is blocking Newt. I happen to think that if it was Santorum, on the basis of how he did in that last debate, the exciting way he went after Romney on health care, he took it to him on the health care issue with specifics more than anyone else.

Keep your eye on Santorum, but he's blocked.

COOPER: Well, Rick Santorum, I think, is actually standing by. I think Wolf is going to talk to him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much.

Santorum certainly has been told again and again by Newt Gingrich supporters to get out of the race, leaving the field to Gingrich and Romney. He's maintained he's got as good a shot as anyone if this turns into a long, drawn-out battle. Like Ron Paul, Santorum didn't really focus in on Florida.

Earlier tonight, he told his supporters that he's the only real conservative in the race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: In Florida, Newt Gingrich had his opportunity. He came out of the state of South Carolina. He came out with -- with a big -- with a big win and a lot of money. And he said, "I'm going to be the conservative alternative. I'm going to be the anti-Mitt." And it didn't work. He became the issue. We can't allow our nominee to be the issue in the campaign.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: So I say -- I say to the people of Nevada and, in fact, to the people across this country, if you want a strong, principled conservative who's not going to be the issue in the campaign, who's going to make Barack Obama the issue in this campaign, please vote for me and help us out.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Rick Santorum is joining us now from Las Vegas.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

Tough words for Newt Gingrich. It sounds like as if you really think he should drop out since he came in a distant second in Florida.

SANTORUM: No, I'm not -- I don't do what Newt Gingrich does, which is counsel other campaigns as to their campaign strategy.

We actually have gone out and run an issue-oriented campaign. We're going to talk about why we're the best candidate to match up against Barack Obama, why we believe that we can consolidate the conservative base and to have them enthusiastic about a nominee.

I think that's the most important thing we can do in this general election is to have a base that is solidified and enthusiastic. And that's how we won the 2010 election. And that's how Obama won the 2008 election. He had an excited and energized base, and that attracted the folks in the middle to their side of the aisle.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich basically dismisses you -- and Ron Paul, for that matter. He says -- and he said it again in his speech tonight -- he said, this is now a two-person race, a conservative leader, meaning himself, vs. a Massachusetts moderate.

So, he's not even paying attention to you, Senator.

SANTORUM: Well, I think he will in the next few states.

We will wait and see. If you saw that -- some of the other states that are on the horizon here, that our polling numbers are pretty decent. We feel that national conservative leaders are starting to recognize that Newt simply doesn't have the ability to be able to solidify conservatives behind him, doesn't have the ability to, frankly run a particularly disciplined campaign or have the -- stay on message, talking about moon colonies and talking about, you know, personal issues with the other candidates, instead of staying on message about what's important to the people who are going to be voting in this election.

We have done that, and we will continue to do that. We will draw those clear distinctions. We're going to do it tomorrow with a press conference -- excuse me -- a speech on health care, contrasting Obamacare and Romneycare. That's the kind of campaign I think the people in this country want, which is one that focuses on them and what's going to be the consequence of a Republican presidency vs. an Obama presidency.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say, Senator, this is a pivot, a new strategy that you begin tomorrow?

SANTORUM: Well, you know, as you know, it's like any kind of campaign, military or otherwise. the enemy has a vote, and when your opponents are doing things, you have got to counter those things.

And we have seen what Congressman Gingrich's strategy has been in Florida, and as well as Mitt Romney's, and we feel like we have a very good counterstrategy to that here in Nevada and particularly in Minnesota, Colorado, Missouri, which are coming up next week, a week from today.

BLITZER: Coming up very quickly. We will leave it there.

Senator, I speak for everyone at CNN and I think all of our viewers from the United States and around the world. We're really happy your daughter Bella is coming home from the hospital tomorrow, good news on that front. Thanks for sharing with us.

SANTORUM: well, thank you so much.

And, as I say all the time, I cannot thank you enough, Wolf and everybody there, your prayers. They meant the world to us. And I know, I know they helped Bella. Thank you.

BLITZER: And do me a favor. Say hi to your 93-year-old mother. I got to know her at that last debate, a lovely woman. She's very proud of you, as I guess she should be.

Thanks very much, Senator.

SANTORUM: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator Rick Santorum.

All right, Anderson, you didn't have a chance to meet his 93- year-old mother. I did, and she's terrific.

COOPER: Yes, she certainly seems so.

We're digging deeper next, Wolf, and throughout the hour. We're going all the way to the midnight hour in fact on this edition of A.C. 360, starting with the all-important evangelical vote. John King will break it down for us, looking at the exit poll numbers, looking at what kind of support Romney got among evangelicals and Gingrich got.

We will also talk to Ralph Reed right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're back with this special edition of A.C. 360, primary night in Florida.

The winner tonight, the winner big, Mitt Romney.

Let's look closer now at just how he won. One big key in Florida, the evangelical vote. Mitt Romney had a tough time in South Carolina with those voters. The question tonight, how did things change in Florida for him among evangelicals?

John King has crunched the numbers.

KING: And let's bring up those evangelicals.

In Florida, right here, evangelical voters, born-again Christians, how did they break? -- 38 percent for Speaker Gingrich, 35 percent for Governor Romney. By nowhere the lead Speaker Gingrich had in the state of South Carolina. Rick Santorum coming in with 19 percent.

This is one way to look at it, very conservative voters, white evangelicals, and that is one way to look at it. If you look at very conservative voters, we will bring them up as well in Florida. This is about a third of the electorate. Speaker Gingrich actually carrying this slice of the electorate, a lot of evangelicals in this group 43 percent to 29 percent.

We showed you the breakdown of the exit polls, the evangelicals and very conservative. Let's go over and see how that plays out on the map. We're going to circle this area up here. You see up here this is where Speaker Gingrich did his best, in this part of the state of Florida. These are small rural counties, not a lot of people, which is why you have the big Romney victory, despite some of the Gingrich light red or pink, depending on how it looks at home for you here.

But I want to show you the demographics of Florida by evangelicals. If you look where Speaker Gingrich did well, the darker the area, the higher the percentage of evangelicals. You see up here just to the east of Panama City, a higher percentage of evangelicals. That is an area where Speaker Gingrich did well.

Want to show you one other group up here is Tea Party voters, again a more conservative piece of the electorate and again high Tea Party percentage, high Tea Party percentage here. Anderson, Governor Romney with a very impressive victory across the state. I will take this off. This dark red is Governor Romney winning in all of the major population centers, winning up in Jacksonville, down to Orlando, Miami, Naples, Tampa, St. Pete.

But if do you see any weakness for Governor Romney tonight, any concern going forward, even with this shellacking he gave Speaker Gingrich, we're at 46 percent to 32 percent, you do see Speaker Gingrich continues to have a base of support among the most conservative voters, especially the evangelicals. And you find them here in the Panhandle of Florida.

COOPER: That's fascinating stuff. John King, thanks very much.

Joining me now is the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Ralph Reed.

How did Mitt Romney do it? He certainly seemed to win over a lot of more evangelicals than he did in South Carolina. How did he close that gap?

RALPH REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, Anderson, this is an across-the-board sweep. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Four years ago, John McCain, even with Charlie Crist's endorsement, who at that time, hard to believe, was the most popular politician in Florida, only won this primary by five points. Romney won it tonight by 14 without Jeb Bush's endorsement, without Marco Rubio's endorsement, and it was really impressive. He not only basically split the evangelical vote with Newt Gingrich; he won the Catholic vote by 26 points with two Catholics on the ballot. He won the Latino vote. The electorate was more female. He won women by a huge margin, as you know. So I think that's the first thing. You know, he just won across the board in this constituency.

The second thing is evangelicals in Florida are a more demographically diverse group than they are in South Carolina. They're less likely to be subtle about this. They're more likely to be rubbing shoulders with Latino Catholics and others. So I think they were more open.

And then finally, if you look at all the polling across all the demographic subgroups, because of the mortgage crisis in Florida, because it's so tourist dependent, the economy really moved to front and center here. And that was true for all voters, including evangelicals.

COOPER: What do you think that means for him moving forward, though, among evangelicals? Because as you said, Florida is different than a lot of the other states.

REED: Well, look, what Romney has got to do is make his case and win his fair share. I predicted before this primary that, if he won 33 percent or more of the evangelical vote, he'd win the primary. He got -- he did better than that.

So it's unrealistic with Santorum and Gingrich standing in the race, to think he's going to win a majority of these votes. I don't think he's trying to do that. He wants to get his fair share. He wants to make his case. And most importantly, he wants to adopt some of the themes that Santorum and Gingrich have been running on so that all these voters are here for him in the general. If he's going to win Florida in the general election, he needs a huge turnout of these voters.

COOPER: Do you think his faith, member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, does that -- is that still a huge factor? Is that still a factor among evangelicals?

REED: I don't think so. We did not see that question, I think, asked specifically in Florida. But in South Carolina, I think it was a CNN poll that asked voters whether or not Romney's faith was an impediment to them voting for him. Eighty-three percent said no.

I think a bigger issue is the fact that he's been pro-choice in the past, the fact that, you know, he had a health-care plan that Gingrich has argued looks a lot like Obama care. Those have been the issues, but he's making progress.

Look at the pro-life vote tonight. Fifty-eight percent of the electorate. He split it evenly with Newt Gingrich. They both got 39 percent. That's a good sign for the future. Even though Gingrich was carpet bombing him on country and news talk radio on the abortion issue.

COOPER: What did you hear when you heard Gingrich talk tonight, when you heard Romney talk tonight? What stood out to you?

REED: Well, I think two things stood out.

The first is, is that Newt clearly intends to adopt a Reagan '76 strategy of just guerilla warfare, hope that, even if he loses a string of primaries, he bounces back like Reagan did in North Carolina and can take it all the way to the convention.

I thought his speech was very compelling. I thought by talking about what he would do as president -- the executive orders, the bills he would sign on day one -- that was a good message.

I think what Romney did was, in a very subtle way, without asking anybody to get out, he started out by talking about unity. He's clearly got an eye towards the general.

COOPER: Does he need to now just solely focus on Obama, or I mean, is this battle between Gingrich and Romney going to continue from Romney's prospective?

REED: I don't think it's over. I don't think it's over for a couple of reasons. First of all, you've got caucus states, which as Hillary Clinton found out in '08 on the Democratic side of the ball, really helps an activist candidate who's closer to the grass roots of the party.

So Romney cannot pretend like this is over. He's got to go to caucuses in places like Nevada and Missouri and Minnesota, and there will be others.

Secondly, once the calendar page turns to March, he's got to go to the south on Super Tuesday, and on that day, the evangelical vote looks a lot more like it did in South Carolina than it does in Florida.

COOPER: It's fascinating night. Ralph, appreciate it. Thanks.

REED: You bet.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, guys. Let's bring in Roland Martin and Erick Erickson. They're going to assess what's going on.

Erick, first to you. You're in Miami Beach watching what's going on. Where do you see this race for the Republican nomination after Florida?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Newt Gingrich is serious about staying in this convention. There's a path for him. If you look up in north Florida, even the counties that Romney won, Duval County and then Panama City, he won those very close.

So Gingrich in southern states, in Georgia, Tennessee, others on Super Tuesday, he's got a path forward. He can't outright win, I don't think, any more given the domination of Mitt Romney tonight, but he can drag this thing out for a long time to a convention.

You look at the turnout overall, you really -- it seems like it was about what 2008 was. Fifty-seven percent of the voters in the exit poll said they wanted another candidate. There's beginning to be an argument among a lot of candidates now. Maybe we need to take this thing to the convention and sort it out.

Romney is not closing the deal with conservatives, and the more talking heads on TV say unity and it's Romney's time now. The more that it's going to excite angry voters and conservatives to try to drag this out. He's got to walk a very delicate balance from here.

BLITZER: I think you'll agree, Roland, that Mitt Romney is a much stronger candidate now than he was a month ago or two months ago because of the competition.

MARTIN: Of course. The competition was supposed to do that. Also, I think I should caution. Erick and I were talking about this here. We should really caution the audience, people who begin to say where does Newt go, what does he do, what's going on? What happened just a week or so ago when we were talking about South Carolina?

Think of this here. Think about 2008, how the whole Reverend Jeremiah Wright issue really caused the implosion of Senator Obama's campaign. We also have a fear of the unknown. So many things can happen over the period of one month. We simply do not know. Mitt Romney could stumble again. Granted, he's able to answer the whole tax question. We simply don't know. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

So I think we need to stop the whole nonsense of somehow thinking this race is going to be over when we still only have 5 percent of delegates by the end of February. And so many different things could happen, but there's no way this is close to somehow going away. So Gingrich and Santorum, they've got an opportunity.

BLITZER: OK, guys. Don't have too much fun over there. They're in Miami Beach. It looks like the folks around you are having a lot of fun.

Anderson, they've got a pretty good assignment over there.

COOPER: Yes. Although my whole image of South Beach has been shattered by -- by watching them. I don't know. Paul says South Beach looks more like south Cleveland. No offense to south Cleveland.

Up next, how the Nevada race is shaping up. Piers Morgan talking to Newt Gingrich's daughters. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Victory night in Florida for Mitt Romney and bitter defeat for Newt Gingrich after a fight in which attack ads dominated the airwaves. Still, as you heard a moment ago, Speaker Gingrich says he is in this race until the end, as the new campaign signs said it. Another 46 states.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate. And the voters of Florida really made that clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Joining us now is Piers Morgan, host of "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." He's going on at midnight with a special edition of his show. He's joined by Newt Gingrich's daughters, Jackie Gingrich Cushman and Kathy Gingrich Lubbers -- Piers.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I certainly am, Anderson. And ladies, it was a bit more cheerful last time I talked to you. You came after a thumping victory. There was a huge party erupting all around you. Looks a little bit quieter tonight.

KATHY GINGRICH LUBBERS, NEWT'S DAUGHTER: Well, Piers, it's a little quieter because our father has already left to go to Nevada. So there's a reason it's not quite as exciting. But you know, we're here. We have the American flag behind us. We're here to talk about what's important to the American people. And we appreciate your time tonight. MORGAN: Now, look. Let's cut to the quick, ladies. He took a hell of a shellacking, as several of my colleagues have been saying earlier. I would imagine that, knowing the man as I do now, he would -- he wouldn't react very well to a big beating like this. How is his mood?

JACKIE GINGRICH CUSHMAN, NEWT'S DAUGHTER: It's great. And I don't know if you were able to watch the speech that he gave tonight, but that is exactly how he feels.

To be perfectly honest, we had a huge victory in South Carolina. We won by 12 points. Governor Romney [SIC] has endorsed us. Herman Cain has endorsed us. Michael Reagan's on the trail with us for the last few days. We've had a lot of grass roots people that are really behind us, but we knew that Florida was a big media market. With all the money that's been spent here, we knew that this wasn't our state, and our town, our place.

But we also know, as the sign said tonight, that there are 46 more states to go, that we have lots of delegates to get.

And Dad was really passionate in his speech tonight. He talked about the America that we could have together and the bright future that we can work towards together. And I think the people were excited to hear that talk.

MORGAN: Tell me this, though. Clearly you have had the kitchen sink thrown at your father by Mitt Romney. He's spending millions and millions of dollars pounding your dad into submission. You know, 99 percent of Romney's ads in Florida were negative. Ninety-five percent of your father's ads were negative.

It's getting very nasty and very personal. On a human level, how do you as his daughters feel about the bombardment coming his way?

LUBBER: Well, it's never actually fun to experience that. I am sure that you can imagine that's not a pleasant place to be. It's especially disappointing, because it does keep other people who would be good in public service out of the opportunity, because they just don't want to endure it.

But it also means that we're not addressing the important issues about what -- you know, what we need from an American leader. What we need is someone like our father who has governed, who has done the things that even Barack Obama has not yet done, is reached across the aisle.

And while he was speaker, he was able to cut taxes, cut spending, balance the budget four times, deal with, you know, entitlement reform. They actually helped create 11 million jobs, and we were at 4.2 percent unemployment. That's the message that you're going to be hearing more and more about as we go forward, because that's what resonates with the American people.

MORGAN: The other message we keep hearing is from your father about Mitt Romney. He keeps calling him effectively a liar. He keeps saying dishonest, dishonest, dishonest. He's lying.

Do you ladies think that Mitt Romney is a liar? Is it helpful if Mitt Romney ends up being the nominee, that the message is communicated so forcefully that he's a liar. Does that help the Republican Party?

CUSHMAN: I think part of the process of the primary is to go through this winnowing and to go through all the different things you'll see in the general election. And I'll just give you an example.

We talked earlier about his position and what he's done. But as governor, Governor Mitt Romney raised taxes and fees $700 million. Now that's not a conservative message; that's not a conservative action.

Dad has cut taxes. He's cut spending. He worked on welfare reform and passed it.

But part of what we're seeing, what we saw in Florida, to your point on negative ads, is that Mitt Romney didn't return on the record at governor. He won Florida.

But I think what you'll see as we go forward to the next states, really entering the next phase. As I talked to dad after the speech, I said terrific speech. You really - t really resonated with people. I have had so many e-mails and Facebooks and other people saying this was an incredible speech.

And he said that, you know what? Welcome to the next phase of the campaign. This is where we're focusing. This is where we're going. It's going to really resonate with the American people. People want to know what they're getting and what to look forward to. And they're going to get that with Newt Gingrich.

MORGAN: You two are very polite young ladies. I know that, as I've spoken to you a few times now and you're always very polite to me. Your father wasn't very polite tonight. He didn't congratulate Mitt Romney or phone him as far as we're aware. He even mention him in his speech. I mean, a bit graceless, wouldn't you think?

LUBBERS: I'm not really sure I'd say that's graceless. I think what that is is the reality that he's moved on and we're looking forward to the next 46 states. And I think that that's an important message because everyone wants to know, what's Newt doing next? I think he laid out what he's doing next, and that's what he wanted to make sure that everyone heard, including the people on media laps (ph).

MORGAN: Finally, very quickly, ladies: have you bought your tickets to the moon colony yet?

Not yet, but my two children are really looking forward to it.

Morgan: I wouldn't mind coming myself. Count me in.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman and Kathy Gingrich Lubbers, thank you again very much. Much appreciated.

LUBBERS: Thank you.

CUSHMAN: A pleasure.

MORGAN: Back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks very much. The next contest coming this week in Nevada where they're going to be holding caucuses. And as you would expect in the country's biggest gaming state, there will be wild cards.

Tom Foreman joins us now in Las Vegas, a group of undecided voters who have been watching our Florida coverage tonight.

Tom, what are you hearing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson. I'm here at a place called the Fremont Street Experience. And we've gathered these voters inside the Luna Rosa restaurant over here, a popular place to gather, specifically because nobody in the country is watching more closely right now what's happening in Florida than the people in Nevada, because they know they're going to be watched next.

And this is our group inside here of all the Republicans we've gathered. Let me ask you first of all, how many of you, after everything you've heard tonight, are inclined to vote for Mitt Romney? And how many of you are inclined to vote for Newt Gingrich?

Do you see, Anderson? There's still some there. Anyone for Ron Paul in here?

One Ron Paul, maybe. Undecided. And largely, they are undecided here. Let me ask you some questions here. One other part about this. All of you who are potentially Mitt Romney voters and Tea Party supporters raise your hand. Some but not necessarily.

Let me ask you about this idea. Is it difficult for Mitt Romney to get the Tea Party people as somebody on our coverage earlier tonight referred to, the base of the base, behind him? Is this an easy decision to make if you support the Tea Party ideals?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I think if he keeps banging the drum he's going to cut federal spending, you know, we have 1,000 days consecutively combined with no federal budget. If he's going to cap spending at 18 percent and really work that down like he says he did in his speech tonight, I think that's going to bring a lot of the Tea Party voters.

But everybody is going to coalesce over whoever the nominee is because there's enough anti-Obama sentiment over the country.

FOREMAN: Let me go back to these ladies in the front row here, because I know that earlier on, some of you, you're not so happy about the idea of Mitt Romney being the nominee. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, because of Romney care. Because of him running as an independent in the past, and now suddenly he's a Republican. I think he's going to have a hard time debating Barack Obama. I don't think he's going to take it to him.

FOREMAN: Who do you think would do a better job?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich will take it directly to President Obama. And I would bet that Obama would decline debate, too, because he fears him.

FOREMAN: Really?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

FOREMAN: That's a big -- a big statement there.

One of the things we noted, too, Anderson, is that in this state, about 8 percent of the population is LDS or Mormon. Last time, they gave a big nod to Mr. Romney.

You are the one person who is LDS or Mormon. And you were saying earlier you don't think people were voting purely on religious lines, but certainly, that will be an advantage to him here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right, right. They won't vote on purely religious lines, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is exact opposite from a lot of, you know, conservative Republican views.

FOREMAN: Harry Reid, a Democrat who's also a Mormon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A Mormon, so there's a large diversity within the Mormon church politically. But...

FOREMAN: Anderson, that's sort of the general feel of the folks around here as they watched tonight, and they watched very attentively. And they're terribly interested in what's going to happen here this coming weekend, Anderson.

COOPER: I hope they've been given some food and some drinks, too. They've been very nice to sit around with us all night long.

FOREMAN: We're sending the bill to you.

COOPER: Fine. Tom, appreciate it. And please thank everyone there for their time tonight.

Up next tonight, which candidate won the hearts of the Tea Party tonight? John King is going to break down the numbers for us.

Also, Tea Party favorite and former candidate Herman Cain. His first endorsement was, by his own admission, unconventional. He endorsed the people. Now he's endorsing Newt Gingrich. We'll talk to him about it on this special edition of AC 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Welcome back. We're live with special "360" coverage of the Florida Republican primary. Let's see how the Tea Party voted tonight in Florida. John King has the exit poll data, joins us once again -- John.

KING: First, I want to take you back to South Carolina. This is the South Carolina vote. Not that long ago, right? Sixty-four percent of the electorate in South Carolina identified themselves with the Tea Party supporters. Pretty big number. Almost two thirds.

And look at this. In South Carolina, 45 to 25. A 20-point advantage for Gingrich in South Carolina. Remember that. As we get a little bit down. And also remember that, 64 percent support.

Let's fast forward to tonight now. Sixty-five percent support the Tea Party. So essentially the same percentage of support for the Tea Party in the state. About two third of the voters say, "Sure, I support the Tea Party."

But look at this: Romney to Gingrich. Romney actually getting an advantage in the Tea Party. A huge switch from South Carolina.

Now, people will say South Carolina is more conservative. That's true. It's a different Tea Party in Florida, but this is a huge gain for Governor Romney.

One of the reasons, Anderson, if you're in Florida, a lot of tweets, a lot of e-mails, a lot of contacts from Tea Party voters. Ran into some in person around the debates who said they liked Speaker Gingrich until he gave that big speech about the moon colony. And then it was an example that he wasn't serious about cutting federal spending. That it might be a great aspiration...

COOPER: Right.

KING: But we need to cut spending. That, of course, the big Tea Party concern.

COOPER: Let's show what he said during that debate to our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: By the end of my second term -- we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American.

We will have commercial near-earth activities that include science, tourism, and manufacturing. And by the end of 2020, we will have the first continuous propulsion system in space capable of getting to Mars in a remarkably short time, because I am sick of being told we have to be timid, and I'm sick of being told we have to be limited to technologies that are 50 years old.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was the day before the CNN debate. He did get hammered for it during the debate. He also got hammered for going around state to state and talking about local projects as sort of basically an example of pork.

KING: And Mitt Romney in his debate essentially said he's pandering. Going state by state, he tries to say, "Here's a government program. Here's government spending."

I want to be careful. Romney is winning very big in Florida, so it's hard. You don't want to read into any -- too closely into the polling data, but when you look at this, you look at this here: Governor Romney getting 41 percent of the Tea Party vote. Those who support the Tea Party in Florida. That's a big shift from South Carolina, in part -- in part because of that.

And that's one of the reasons you also look at people who are neutral to the Tea Party. Governor Romney cleaned up here, Anderson: 57 percent to 22 percent. So we'll see if the Tea Party shift continues as we move on to Nevada, a very big Tea Party state in the 2010 cycle.

COOPER: One Tea Party favorite who is now endorsing Newt Gingrich is former challenger Herman Cain. He joins us now.

Why -- good evening, Mr. Cain. Thanks for being with us. Why do you think Newt Gingrich seems to have lost support among the Tea Party, at least in Florida?

HERMAN CAIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that that's one of the big messages out of this whole thing. The question is, will Romney be able to maintain that demographic shift as John King pointed out, relative to the Tea Party, evangelicals and women. The question is will it hold?

And the fact that we're still early in the contest and it's going to take 1,144 electoral votes, I believe that the upcoming states and Super Tuesday will give us more information about whether or not he can hold those demographics.

COOPER: Well, as a supporter of Speaker Gingrich, do you think it was a mistake for him to be talking about going to the moon and going to Mars when a lot of Tea Party voters are saying, "You know what? Let's talk about debt. Let's talk about debt. Let's talk about debt"?

CAIN: Let's just say I would have done it differently. I would have said, "I want to regain the leadership of the United States relative to space, because this president gave it away when he canceled one of our major space programs. And now we have to thumb a ride from the Russians to get out into outer space." That's what he was trying to say. I would have just said it a little differently, and I think it would have resonated with people.

COOPER: Earlier...

CAIN: The point that he was trying to make -- the point that he was trying to make was that we need a bold vision of the future relative to the space program, because that would create a lot of other technological advances on the way.

John F. Kennedy said by the end of the decade of the '60s, we're going to walk on the moon. A lot of people said, "Whoa. What is this all about?" What it was about was challenging our technological capabilities as a nation. That's what Speaker Gingrich was trying to do with the statement about the colony on the moon.

COOPER: Earlier, John king described Speaker Gingrich's loss tonight as a shellacking. Do you think that's an apt description?

CAIN: I would say it's a shellacking. It was a double-digit shellacking. But the good news is I've gotten shellackings in my life, and I got up and I was a better man for it, or I was a better kid after my dad gave me a shellacking.

I don't think this thing is over. It's a long way from over. And the message that I would like to send to voters who haven't voted yet is that don't be fooled into thinking that this is over.

Congratulations to Governor Mitt Romney. He now has 84 electoral votes, but the total that you need to get the nomination is 1,144. It's a long way from being over. So Super Tuesday, I believe, is going to be absolutely critical.

COOPER: Do you want your candidate, Gingrich, to continue on all the way to the convention, regardless of what happens on Super Tuesday?

CAIN: Yes, I do. If he stops getting victories, then he should quit. Or he should end his campaign. I don't think that's going to happen.

But one thing that we learned from the very first contest in Iowa is that the conservative Republican base, however you want to categorize the department, it is split. It is splintered. And the fact that Speaker Gingrich won decisively in South Carolina, Governor Romney won decisively in Florida, it still is more indication of how it is split. This is why I believe it's going to go on for a long time.

COOPER: Herman Cain, thank you tonight. I appreciate it.

CAIN: Thanks.