Florida Primary: Republicans Fall in Line Behind McCain

Any Republican campaign professional worth their salt never bought the argument that The Hon. Rudy Giuliani had any chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination. The idea that a pro-choice, gunning banning, divorce-prone, thespian cross-dresser would win the nod in a political party with definite ideas against such frivolity was illogical. The thrashing by Florida Republican primary voters of Rudy Giuliani's presidential aspirations has finally arrived, putting to rest the idea that losing the early presidential contests is a recipe for success. The probability is high that Mayor Giuliani will withdraw gracefully, likely endorsing Sen. McCain (based on news reports). So what does it mean for Super Tuesday?

Clearly Sen. McCain is again the undisputed frontrunner, and it is well-earned. His perseverance as the underdog is a story made for America. He won Florida by a combination of momentum from victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, aided by key endorsements from Sen. Martinez (R-FL) and Gov. Crist (R-FL), that respectively gave the McCain campaign an edge with Cuban-American voters in Miami-Dade County, and gave him the boost he needed among rank-and-file moderates statewide and enough conservatives in the I-4 corridor (Orlando to Tampa) to beat Gov. Romney for the state's 57 delegates.

So where to from here in the Republican Party? While money is the key ingredient to any successful campaign, the dollar's value in this contest is dropping faster than it is on the currency exchange market.

Without deep pockets, Gov. Romney would not now be considered a real contender to Sen. McCain. But he does have deep pockets so cannot be dismissed. With only seven days to go to Super Tuesday Mr. Romney's cash reserve is not the advantage it once was for two reasons. Sen. McCain's victory in Florida will translate into media coverage that far exceeds in value anything Gov. Romney's media buyer can purchase. And, with only seven days to go there is only so many messages the Romney campaign can sear into voters' heads by buying television commercials.

As of tonight, Sen. McCain has 97 delegates to Gov. Romney's 78, with Gov. Huckabee trailing miserably with 29 (Ron Paul's six delegates are three times what Mr. Giuliani boasts, a pretty clear hint it is time for both to drop out of the race). McCain has momentum and media coverage, Romney has funds and the final contest looms.

The Romney campaign has many targets to choose from, not a lot of time, and only a few days to spend as much money as he will wire into the campaign's bank account. His is a tall order that has to include the congressional districts in San Diego's media market to try and win delegates in California's proportional contest (meaning it is not a winner-take-all state but instead delegates are awarded in proportion to percentage of vote) by attacking McCain on immigration.

Certainly Romney has to feel confident about his home state of Massachusetts. Utah and Colorado are a good bet (although only Utah is winner-take-all) as both have large Mormon populations, as are North Dakota and Montana since Romney seemed to easily win in the similar Wyoming. But after that it gets sticky for Romney since so many of the winner-take-all states on February 5th are made for McCain, such as Arizona (Sen. McCain's home), New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Missouri which all have a large number of primary-voting moderate Republicans. Further complicating matters for Romney; the states where Romney has a clear shot are clouded by Mr. Huckabee who has vowed to stay in the contest, choosing to play the part of spoiler in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee that he was so quick to condemn Sen. Fred Thompson for playing in South Carolina.

McCain may well concede the remaining states (Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Alaska) simply by not spending time or money there, but his front runner status will carry the day for him barring a horrendous gaffe. That doesn't mean the contest is over. Gov. Romney clearly felt that in the closing days of the Florida race Sen. McCain lied about his position on timetables for troop withdrawal from Iraq and he is sure to launch a blistering attack on McCain's conservative credentials that may not win Romney the nomination, but will cause serious injury to the GOP frontrunner McCain going into the general election -- much like the effect in 1996 of Steve Forbes' attacks on Sen. Bob Dole.

Florida was a seminal moment in the 2008 Republican presidential campaign. In the end what it proved is that Republican primary voters haven't changed their stripes; they pick the candidate based on seniority, so it is fitting that the race gelled for McCain in Florida.

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