Confident McCain Says Security Will Dominate Fla. Vote
By Juliet Eilperin
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.. -- With Florida Gov. Charlie Crist by his side, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) arrived at a local polling station and told reporters he believes the issue of national security will dominate today's GOP primary.
"The real issue here in Florida is who can keep them safe," McCain said.
Hampered by his lack of funds last year, McCain never developed an elaborate get-out-of-the-vote operation in Florida the way he did in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Instead he is relying on the Florida Republicans who have backed him, such as Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez to mobilize their supporters on his behalf.
Crist said this morning that he was happy to have endorsed McCain. "I hope it helps the guy, and I know it's going to be a great day in the state of Florida." In an interview on Monday, the governor said when it came to supporting McCain, he was doing "anything we can do, everything we can do."
In some instances Crist's support has already translated into other influential endorsements. On Monday Pasco County GOP Chair Bill Bunting -- a prominent gun-rights advocate who served as the Second Amendment chairman of Crist's gubernatorial campaign and had previously backed former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson's presidential bid -- declared his support and urged roughly 90,000 supporters via e-mail to vote for McCain.
"I look for the candidate who understands the idea that with great freedoms come great responsibilities, which is why I am supporting John McCain," Bunting said in a statement. "John McCain is an honorable man and a great American with strong commitment to second amendment rights, and I am proud to support him for president."
Another key grassroots ally of Crist, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, also endorsed McCain yesterday. The association represents 36,000 law enforcement and corrections officers across the state. "Endorsements matter," McCain told reporters this morning as he stood beside Crist.
The senator added that he doubted the recent verbal sparring between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and himself would dishearten voters, saying it "looks like a Sunday school picnic compared to what the Democrats have been doing."
"Governor Romney has attacked virtually every one of us," he said, adding he had not engaged in a verbal tug-of-war with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) or former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, who recently dropped out of the GOP presidential race. "It's only Governor Romney who attacks his opponents when he thinks they're coming up and might succeed."
In another effort to boost voter turnout McCain has established a phone-banking operation in Florida, and has started sending out an array of robo-calls recorded by his surrogates to targeted audiences. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), for example, has recorded a message on McCain's behalf aimed at the state's Jewish Republicans.
McCain said he hoped to observe his usual primary day ritual of seeing a movie once he arrived in Miami this afternoon, but he wasn't sure if he would have time. He added, however, that he could name the one film he would not watch, on the grounds that it would give him bad luck: "It certainly will not be...'No Country for Old Men.'"
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