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GOP candidates turn attention to smaller caucus contests after Florida brawl

 

The Republican presidential candidates fanned out across the country Wednesday, as they prepared for a new round of elections which will require a greater human touch than the debate- and ad-driven campaigns of delegate-rich Florida. 

Mitt Romney, whose campaign by far boasts the monetary advantage in the Republican field, cruised to a win in the Sunshine State Tuesday night, defeating Newt Gingrich by 14 points. 

The former Massachusetts governor told Fox News on Wednesday that the debates, in which he notched two strong performances, "were the deciding feature" for Floridians. Gingrich's debate performances a week prior were likewise credited in playing a role in his victory in South Carolina. 

Only one debate is scheduled for February, and not until later in the month. Before then, the candidates will have to compete in five caucuses states -- contests that typically attract fewer, but more devoted, Republican voters than traditional primaries. 

The next contest, in Nevada on Saturday, drew just 45,000 participants in 2008. 

Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman, has been refocusing his campaign on the caucus states and could be poised to recover lost momentum after placing last in Florida. And in Nevada, Romney could have a built-in advantage, with somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of caucus-goers sharing his Mormon faith as of 2008. 

Romney is set to hold a rally in Las Vegas Wednesday night, after stopping first in Minnesota, which holds its caucuses on Feb. 7 along with Missouri and Colorado. Maine comes next on Feb. 11. 

Romney said the Florida election showed he has a broad coalition of support, and pitched his electability to voters in the upcoming contests. In polls squaring him up against President Obama, Romney said "it's a dead heat." 

He dismissed Gingrich as "someone who spent his life in Washington," likening the former House speaker's resume to that of Obama's. 

But Gingrich is vowing a months-long delegate battle against the man he describes as a "Massachusetts moderate." 

As supporters waved signs emblazoned with the words, "46 States To Go," Gingrich declared Tuesday he plans to defeat "money power" with "people power" in the coming months, casting his campaign as a counterbalance to the "establishment." 

"We are going to contest every place, and we are going to win, and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August," Gingrich said. 

Gingrich is holding a rally in Reno Wednesday afternoon.

Herman Cain, the former GOP presidential candidate who endorsed Gingrich shortly before the Florida vote, told Fox News on Wednesday that Gingrich simply "got outspent" in Florida. 

"It has an impact on people," Cain said. He acknowledged Romney was also "more impressive" in the last debate before the primary. But he claimed Gingrich was "a little tired," and urged him to "get some rest" for the contests ahead. 

"This isn't over and all of the people have not decided yet. This still is a wide open race," Cain said. 

Rick Santorum, though, argued that Gingrich has not proved he can be the viable alternative to Romney in the Republican presidential race. 

"I think you're going to see conservatives start to coalesce around us," Santorum told Fox News. "If you don't like the state of the race today, just wait until next week." 

While Paul campaigns Wednesday in Nevada, Santorum is spending the day in Colorado. 

Gingrich declared Tuesday that the campaign is a "two-person race" between him and Romney. 

But Romney suggested Santorum and Paul have some fight left in them. 

"I think it's kind of presumptuous for someone to decide that other people ought to get out of the race," he told Fox News.