Republican Mitt Romney, his family and supporters vowed to carry his campaign into the vote-rich Super Tuesday contests next week after narrowly losing Florida's primary to rival John McCain.
In his concession speech Tuesday night, Romney issued a call to arms to conservatives to support him, vowing to cut federal spending, end illegal immigration and teach children "that before they have babies, they should get married."
But it was his wife, Ann, who took the microphone after Romney delivered nine minutes of prepared remarks, who explained the reasons for continuing.
"We feel as though the conservatives are starting to rally around Mitt," she said, as her husband stood beside her. "This is just a send-off point; this is not an end. It's another beginning. We have 22 more states to go after, and we will be able to do that."
The defeat marked the fourth time the former Massachusetts governor and the Arizona senator had gone head-to-head in a major contest, with McCain winning as he had earlier in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Romney claimed victory in his native state of Michigan.
Romney team hoping for clearer field
Romney's team believes that as the field narrows, most likely next with the departure of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Romney's ability to raise money and spend his millions will allow him to better highlight the contrast between his business background and McCain's long tenure in Washington.
There are 21 GOP contests on the ballot on Feb. 5, with 1,023 delegates at stake. A total of 1,191 are needed for the GOP nomination.
It was the contrast in backgrounds that Romney highlighted in a concession speech that otherwise echoed familiar themes from the trail, as if the loss presented no jeopardy to the future of his campaign.
"At a time like this, America needs a president in the White House who has actually had a job in the real economy," Romney said, adding that "at a time like this, knowing how America works is more important than knowing how Washington works."
As the audience cheered, he declared: "Washington is fundamentally broken, and we're not going to change Washington by sending the same people back, just to sit in different chairs. I think it's time for the politicians to leave Washington and for the citizens to take over."
No longer the delegate leader
Despite Romney's upbeat posture, the loss was a setback.
As the former venture capitalist had done in earlier contests, Romney spent the most on television advertising of any GOP candidate in Florida. His staff was stocked with aides to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a veteran of state politics who secured a win for his brother, George W. Bush, in the disputed 2000 election.
In addition, with McCain winning all 57 of Florida's convention delegates, Romney ceded a major talking point: He no longer has the most delegates in the field. Romney began the evening with a 59-26 lead over McCain; McCain ended it ahead 83-59.
McCain gained late momentum with endorsements from Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., the state's top elected Hispanic leader, and Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
He also made use of one of Romney's campaign tactics, running negative radio and Internet ads against his rival and fielding calls that accused Romney of favoring taxpayer-funded abortion. McCain also claimed Romney supported a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Romney had not.
From Florida, Romney was headed to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., for a debate Wednesday night. He also planned two days of politicking in the state and a series of fundraisers from Beverly Hills to Sacramento.
He was stopping in Salt Lake City on Saturday to attend the funeral of Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who died Sunday. Romney is trying to become the first Mormon elected president.
After that, the schedule most likely will include stops in Colorado, Georgia and other states before concluding on Tuesday in Massachusetts, one of the Feb. 5 states.