U.S. Presidential Election 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Romney Remarks on Florida Results

Republican John McCain completed an improbable journey from written off to front-runner Tuesday by winning Florida's presidential primary.

The Arizona senator's third win in the four primaries so far, political analysts say, makes him the favorite for the nomination as the candidates head into a 22-state national primary on Feb. 5.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney had the most at stake in Florida from a momentum standpoint. He has delegates from wins in the Michigan primary and the Wyoming and Nevada caucuses, and his deep pockets — a legacy of his years as a venture capitalist — will allow him to keep fighting.

"It's not completely over, so long as Romney has a big bank account," said former House GOP aide John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. But he said McCain will be difficult to stop.

Though McCain's campaign was broke and in disarray last year, he returned to the underdog approach he used in 2000 and, town meeting by town meeting, scrapped his way back into contention.

A huge win among Hispanic voters, the collapse of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani's campaign and late support from GOP officeholders helped him in Florida. Endorsements from Sen. Mel Martinez and Gov. Charlie Crist "certainly send a signal to Republicans in many other states that some established big-name people are finally getting on the McCain bandwagon," said Aubrey Jewitt, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

National party strategist Alex Vogel, who is neutral in the race, said McCain had a "seemingly insurmountable lead" in California polls and was strong in New York, New Jersey and other Feb. 5 states even before Tuesday. The Florida win makes him "virtually impossible to beat," he said.

McCain, who earlier won New Hampshire and South Carolina, played down such talk. "It's a very significant boost, but I think we've got a tough week ahead and a lot of states to come," he told the Associated Press.

Giuliani staked his candidacy on Florida. The AP reported that he planned to drop out and endorse McCain today. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said he would fight on, but he is poorly financed and hasn't notched a win since Iowa.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton easily won the Democratic race, a beauty contest with no delegates and no campaigning by candidates. They agreed to a boycott after Florida moved to Jan. 29 in violation of national party rules designed to protect early contests.

About 3 million cast ballots for a turnout of 30%, higher than in the 2000 and 2004 primaries but well below the record 58% in 1972.

A survey of 1,270 Florida Republicans as they left the polls and 235 people who had voted early showed a Republican electorate torn between McCain, a maverick who has alienated some Republicans with his stands on immigration, global warming and campaign spending limits; and Romney, whose positions on guns, abortion, stem cell research and gay rights evolved and became more acceptable to social conservatives.

McCain's challenges next week include a dozen Republican contests that bar independents. In the Florida survey, done for TV networks and the AP, he split Republicans with Romney. Among voters who were registered GOP but called themselves independents, McCain won 2-1.

McCain beat Giuliani 2-1 and Romney 4-1 among Hispanic voters. He also led among voters over 65, who vote reliably on Election Day and who constituted a third of Florida's GOP voters.

Romney had argued that he is from the business world and understands how the economy works, and tweaked McCain for saying he did not understand the economy as well as he should. But McCain bested him, 40%-32%, among voters who said the economy was the most important issue facing the country. He did even better among those who said the economy was bad.

Romney topped McCain by 8 percentage points among conservatives, who accounted for six in 10 voters in the GOP primary. He also beat him 35%-20% among people who said a candidate who "shares my values" mattered most to them.

Resistance to McCain is deep-seated among some Republicans, including talk radio's Rush Limbaugh and Christian activist James Dobson, a psychologist, radio personality and founder of Focus on the Family.

But Vogel predicted the "vast majority" will back McCain if they believe he is their best shot at the White House in November — and Florida helps. "Winning cures a lot of things," he said.