Claiming victory in Florida primary, Romney takes aim at President Obama

TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney focused his indignation directly at President Obama as he claimed victory in Tuesday's presidential primary in Florida.

The former Massachusetts governor mentioned Obama by name 12 times as he addressed an animated crowd of supporters in Tampa, but only alluded to his three Republican rivals, whom he called "serious and able competitors."

"President Obama’s view of capitalism is to send your money to his friends’ companies," Romney said. "My vision for free enterprise is to return entrepreneurship to the genius and creativity of the American people."

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Romney's focus on the president reflected a long-standing strategy to paint himself as the fated GOP nominee while hovering above the fray of the bitter primary contest.

Romney deviated from that strategy while campaigning in Florida to hit back at Newt Gingrich, who handily defeated him in South Carolina. But on Tuesday, his decisive victory freed Romney to reclaim the mantle of the race's front-runner.

"Together, we will build an America where 'hope' is a new job with a paycheck, not a faded word on an old bumper sticker," Romney said, knocking Obama's 2008 campaign slogan.

Networks called the race for Romney as soon as the last polls closed at 8 p.m., highlighting the clear-cut victory that Romney secured for himself in the Sunshine State. Romney had a 15-point margin over Gingrich, his top rival, with 78 percent of precincts reporting.

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Unlike his election-night speech in Iowa, where Romney rehashed a well-worn stump speech, or his victory speech in New Hampshire, where his criticism of Obama stayed on a policy level, in Florida Romney's attacks on the president took a more personal tone.

"Like his colleagues in the faculty lounge who think they know better, President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy," Romney said.

Romney faulted Obama for reducing the size of the military, abdicating the nation's role in the world and forcing religious organizations to "violate their conscience." He also claimed Obama had launched a bidding war for those who could promise more benefits to Americans.

"Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it’s time for you to get out of the way," he said.

Romney and his team head on Wednesday to Las Vegas, where he will campaign ahead of Nevada's primary contest on Feb. 7. He is in a strong position to win Nevada, a state with a large population of Mormons, and is expected to do well in other upcoming states as well, including Missouri and Michigan.

But speaking after results were announced on Tuesday, both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich vowed to stay in the race and continue fighting Romney for the GOP nomination.

The anticipation of a drawn-out battle that has already been enveloped by brutal intra-party attacks has many in the GOP fearing that the nominee will emerge weakened against Obama. But Romney declared that Democrats shouldn't be comforted by the rancor of the nominating process.

"A competitive primary does not divide us, it prepares us," he said. "And when we gather here in Tampa seven months from now for our convention, ours will be a united party with a winning ticket for America."