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Florida: First Thoughts on McCain, Clinton Wins

What a night! After a month of primary and caucus results that muddied the field more often than clarifying it, Florida's Republican primary provided some much needed clarity. Make no mistake: Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) is now the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

John McCain
John McCain greets supporters at his Florida primary election night rally in Miami. (Reuters)

The votes are still being counted, so these are only a few of The Fix's thoughts on the events. Offer your own in the comments section below.

* McCain has emerged as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in spite of continued opposition to his candidacy from several long-time pillars of the party base. Among conservative voters, Mitt Romney beat McCain 40 percent to 27 percent; among those who described themselves as "enthusiastic" about the Bush administration, Romney beat McCain 36 percent to 27 percent; and, among those who said abortion should be illegal, Romney beat McCain 39 percent to 26 percent. Those numbers echo findings from exit polls in other states where McCain won -- New Hampshire and South Carolina. Will conservatives now grudgingly rally to McCain on Super Tuesday?

* Rudy Giuliani only has himself to blame for the almost-certain end of his candidacy. (Two sources familiar with the discussions between Giuliani and McCain say that an endorsement of the Arizona senator by the former New York City Mayor is "99 percent certain," but caution that a final decision had not been reached.) After waiting for a month to compete seriously in the GOP race, Giuliani was unwilling to draw the necessary contrasts with McCain and Romney to gain traction. Giuliani's personal squeamishness when it came to attacking his opponents fatally wounded his attempt to score a bounce-back victory tonight.

* At the heart of Giuliani's problems was money. The campaign started with a media budget of $25 million. By early fall that number had shrunk to $15 million and by December it was cut in half again to $7 million. The campaign ultimately spent just $6 million on television -- a paltry sum for a candidate who needed to create momentum after skipping the early primaries and caucuses. Insiders suggest that raising money wasn't the problem -- it was how and where the cash was spent. Expect the money woes of the Giuliani campaign to be a centerpiece of the obituaries written about this campaign.

* Romney will certainly go on to Feb. 5 and should not be ruled out as a potential nominee. But unlike so far in the race, Romney is not likely to enjoy a significant spending advantage over his main rival in the 20-plus states that will vote on Feb. 5. Romney ran nearly ten times as many ads as McCain did in Florida -- and yet he still lost. McCain carries a lead in several of the largest states set to vote on Super Tuesday, and his win tonight is almost certain to provide a massive fundraising boost for his campaign. Romney's personal wealth means he remains a potent adversary, but his spending advantages will now be marginal.

* In some ways, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) got what she wanted out of Florida. She was declared the "winner" of the Democratic primary in the Sunshine State by the television networks, and her speech to supporters in the state also drew wall-to-wall television coverage. Average voters don't closely follow party delegate rules were likely unaware that Florida was not contested by any of the candidates and absolutely no delegates were at stake. To its credit, Barack Obama's campaign worked hard to educate people about the purely symbolic nature of the vote. That education effort worked among the chattering class, but will it work among the average Feb. 5 voter?

We'll be back tomorrow with a winners and losers recap of Florida.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 29, 2008; 11:07 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: Edwards's Departure & A New Democratic Race

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