Politics & Government

Update: Polls close in most of Florida; open till 8 p.m. in some parts

7 p.m. update: Polls in Manatee, Sarasota andSouth Florida are now closed. They stay open till 8 p.m. in some parts of the Panhandle. Stay tuned for early results as they come in!

6:30 p.m. update: Two-thirds of Florida primary voters say the presidential debates were “an important factor” in their vote, according to early CBS News exit polls. If that trend holds true, it could be a boost to Romney’s vote tally, as the former Massachusetts governor is generally viewed as having performed well in Florida’s two debates. Just 39 percent said that the flurry of late campaign ads were important, according to similar CNN polls.

5:55 p.m. update: Florida’s nasty primary race didn’t get any nicer as the votes were being cast Tuesday: Mitt Romney said his chief rival, Newt Gingrich shouldn’t “whine” about being the target of negative campaigning, The Boston Globe reported. In a Tampa news conference, Romney said he had simply been fighting back against the barrage of negative attacks coming from Gingrich’s camp. “If you attack me, I’m not going to just sit back,” Romney told reporters.

5:15 p.m. update: At the Belen Jesuit campus in West Miami-Dade, a Republican stronghold with about three times more registered Republicans than Democrats, the pace of voting had slowed considerably — though it could pick up later this evening when voters get off of work. Just how slow was it? One Belen poll worker was spotted taking a nap.

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It has been a long and negative week and a half since the nation shifted its focus from the South Carolina presidential primary to Florida, where Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are on the ballot Tuesday. And with pollsters and even the Florida Democratic Party already predicting a Romney win, some GOP voters say they’re simply happy the acrimonious race is moving on.

“I’m so happy for this day, ‘cause then it’ll be over,” said Nardy Lenz, of Dania Beach.

After Gingrich upset Romney in South Carolina thanks in part to millions in hit ads, attack pieces — many paid for by Super-PACs — have flooded television and radio airwaves in Florida.

Statistics compiled through last Wednesday show more than 13,500 ads on behalf of Romney in the state, more than half of them funded by the Super-PACs. Only about 200 ads had aired on behalf of Gingrich, though that includes the latest lengthy release from Winning Our Future, called “Blood Money,” about Romney’s old Bain Capital ties to Medicare fraud.

The candidates have also pummeled each other during debates and public appearances and in controversial ads paid for directly by their campaigns, such as Romney’s recent piece bringing back a 15-year-old Tom Brokaw report from when the House of Representatives overwhelmingly rebuked then-House Speaker Gingrich for ethical lapses.

NBC News’ legal department has asked Romney to remove the news report from the ad, but it continued to run repeatedly Tuesday.

Such negative ads led some Republicans to pinch their nose while voting.

"They turn me off totally," said Dale Barrow, 54, of the Hammocks in Southwest Miami-Dade. “They don’t care about the country. They are focusing on getting elected.”

Others were simply discouraged that Romney and Gingrich were tearing each other down.

“They are supposed to be the same party,” said Vivian Rodriguez-Fabar, 76, of West Miami-Dade. “But they are damaging the party.”

That’s what Rod Smith, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, was flaunting in an email Tuesday morning.

“Even though the results are still out, the verdict is in: after this toxic primary slugfest, the real winner tonight isn’t Gingrich or Romney — it’s President Barack Obama and Florida Democrats,” Smith wrote.

McClatchy Washington Bureau staff writers Lesley Clark, William Douglas and David Lightman contributed to this report. The Miami Herald’s Latoya Burgess, Marc Caputo, Howard Cohen, Lidia Dinkova, Glenn Garvin, Margaux Herrera, Alysha Khan, Alexa Lopez, Patricia Mazzei and Christina Veiga also contributed, as well as the Sun Sentinel.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/31/v-print/2616747/election-day-is-here-may-head.html#storylink=cpy

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