BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County voters liked Mitt Romney less and Newt Gingrich more, compared to statewide tallies and results across Tampa Bay.
Romney comfortably beat the rest of the field in Hernando, just like he did overall in Florida and in nearby counties, but his margin of victory was smaller, according to unofficial results from Tuesday's Republican presidential primary.
In Florida, the former Massachusetts governor beat Gingrich by 13.5 percentage points. Compare that to Hernando, where the difference was 7.9 points.
That was by far Romney's smallest margin in the Tampa Bay area. His lead over Gingrich ranged from about 14 percentage points in Pasco to nearly 25 percentage points in Pinellas.
Gingrich actually won one more county than Romney, and dominated the rural counties in the Big Bend and Panhandle regions. Romney's margin in Citrus was six points, and he lost in Levy County.
The former U.S. House speaker also did better in the more rural parts of Hernando County. Of the 18 precincts Gingrich won, most were in and around Brooksville. In Precinct 3, the Little Rock Cannery north of Brooksville, Rick Santorum won and Gingrich came in second.
Santorum and Ron Paul, the other candidate still actively in the race, fared a little better in Hernando compared to the statewide results, too. Paul won 1.5 points more here than he did statewide, and Rick Santorum earned about six-tenth of a point more.
The Gingrich campaign was late to Florida, but did eventually open a campaign headquarters here, the only candidate to do so. Business owners Joe and Mary Mazzuco offered their vacant Spring Hill storefront and started a phone bank there last week.
Between phone calls and face-to-face conversations, "we wound up swaying a lot of people," Mary Mazzuco said Wednesday.
Gingrich supporters were certainly active here, said Hernando Republican Executive Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. But Ingoglia also suspected another factor.
"Hernando had a pretty strong following for Herman Cain, and a lot of Cain supporters transitioned to Gingrich," Ingoglia said.
A little more than 39 percent of the 47,562 Republicans registered in the county cast a ballot. That includes absentee and early voting, and is a couple of percentage points less than the statewide turnout.
Hernando Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams expected the turnout here to be closer to one in four, considering the somewhat anemic pace of early voting. Instead, the rate was closer to the 45 percent that showed up during the 2008 primary, when a statewide property tax amendment sparked more interest.
The election process went smoothly, Williams said.
The results for precincts came in at a staggered rate, and some lagged behind.
Ideally, all results would be uploaded from the polling sites and posted to the Web between 7:45 and 8 p.m., said Liz Townsend, director of operations.
Results for 40 of the county's 57 precincts were posted on the elections office website less than half an hour after the polls closed. All but two were posted by about 8 p.m.
The final two precincts came at 8:30 because poll workers had problems uploading the results and had to bring the voting machines to the Spring Hill elections office, said Liz Townsend, director of operations.
She plans to meet with the poll workers for a debriefing.
"What went right, what could have gone better, and what could we have done to make their job easier?" Townsend said.
Some voters complained about a lack of parking at the new polling place for Precinct 44, the Salishan retirement community off Barclay Avenue in Spring Hill. The problem was resolved by the afternoon after management had some residents move their cars and voters realized they could park on the grass, Townsend said.
Townsend was promoted in December 2010 to her current post, so Tuesday's primary was her first election in the new role. She now has a political stake in how smoothly elections go because she is one of four candidates who has prefiled to run for the supervisor's post this year.
Williams, a Democrat, is retiring. Townsend is the lone Democrat in the race so far, and if another files, she will be on the Aug. 14 primary ballot. Otherwise, she will automatically move to the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The other three candidates are Republicans, and one of them, Kyro Morales, served a brief stint as assistant elections supervisor under Williams before taking another job last year. The other two are Shirley Anderson, district coordinator for U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, and Mark Caskie, a code enforcement officer for the city of Brooksville.
Williams, who has said she won't endorse a candidate in the race, praised Townsend's performance in Tuesday's election.
"She did have more responsibility this time, and she stepped up to the plate," Williams said. "Her performance helped bring everything together."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]