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Winners and Losers: Florida Primary Edition

For the umpteenth time in recent memory, Florida again played a critical role in helping to shape a national presidential election by handing Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) a victory -- a win that solidifies him as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

But, who other than McCain won -- and, as importantly, lost -- last night? Here's our take. Have your own? The comments section is open for business.

WINNERS

Charlie Crist: Florida's governor took a big gamble by endorsing McCain on Saturday night when the outcome was anything but clear. Taking risks -- and guessing right -- is part of what makes a good politician, and Crist did both over the last few days. And, although it was largely overlooked by the national media, Amendment One -- a property tax cutting measure heavily pushed by Crist also passed. A very good night for Florida's governor.

Mel Martinez: The junior Senator from Florida is a revered figure in the state's active Cuban community and, as such, was expected to provide McCain with something of a bounce in heavily Hispanic areas in the state. Did he ever! In Miami-Dade County, which carries the largest Cuban population in the state, McCain won 75,516 votes as compared to 40,251 for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and 23,396 for former governor Mitt Romney. McCain's 50,000 vote margin over Romney in Miami-Dade accounted for more than half of his total winning margin in the state. (Hispanics made up 12 percent of the GOP electorate and went for McCain by 30 points over Giuliani, according to exit poll data.) Martinez doesn't deserve sole credit for McCain's showing in Miami-Dade but he should get significant plaudits. [View County-by-County Results]

Momentum: McCain's win in South Carolina on Jan. 19 seemed to have primed the pump for his win in Florida last night. Although Giuliani essentially spent the last month in Florida, his campaign was knocked back to the starting line once all of the other candidates descended on the state. McCain broke into a trot following his Palmetto State victory and picked up momentum as the Florida vote drew near. Giuliani could never catch up. The momentum theory of winning a presidential nomination lives on.

Florida Elections Officials: Given the tightness of the race between Romney and McCain in polls leading up to the vote yesterday, there were real concerns that problems at the ballot box could lead to another VERY late night of uncertainty in Florida a la the 2000 presidential race. The state's election officials came through with flying colors, however, as nary a voting machine breakdown or polling place meltdown was reported. That led to a quick count of the votes and a -- relatively -- early election night. The Fix thanks you.

LOSERS

Bill McCollum: McCollum, the state's attorney general, served as the Florida chairman for Giuliani in a state that Hizzoner absolutely had to win to keep his hopes alive. He didn't win and, in fact, the 15 percent that Giuliani received was lower than most polls had given him heading into the vote. McCollum doesn't deserve full blame for Giuliani's dismal performance -- the candidate and his "wait and see" strategy should bear the brunt -- but backing a losing horse won't help McCollum if he is interested in once again trying to move up the political ladder in the state.

Marco Rubio: The speaker of the state House, Rubio is seen as an up and comer in Florida Republican politics. So, it's somewhat inexplicable why he threw away his endorsement on former governor Mike Huckabee (Ark.) who never seriously contested the state and ran fourth behind McCain, Romney and Giuliani. Of course, Rubio cited Huckabee's social conservative credentials as his main reason for supporting him -- so, in the long run, the endorsement could well help cement Rubio's conservative bona fides for a statewide bid.

Money: Romney drastically outspent McCain in Florida -- running nearly ten times as many ads in the Sunshine State as the Arizona Senator. But it wasn't enough to overcome McCain's momentum, which was fueled by endorsements from Martinez and Crist. Romney has now outspent his rivals in each of the first six states to vote and has three wins to show for it. Money has long been considered determinative in presidential politics. Is this Republican race changing that perception?

Conservatives: Yet again, self-identified conservatives voters did not cast their votes for McCain and, yet again, McCain won a crucial primary. Conservatives accounted for 60 percent of the Republican primary electorate, according to exit polls, and Romney carried that group 37 percent to 29 percent. But, among moderates (28 percent of the GOP primary electorate), McCain beat Romney by a 43 percent to 21 percent margin. That gap was even wider among liberals (11 percent of electorate) where McCain took 49 percent to 24 percent for Romney. According to exit polls, McCain has yet to win self-identified conservatives in any of the three states in which he has won primary victories. Will conservatives rally to McCain now? Or will they mass behind Romney for one last battle on Feb. 5? Does it matter?

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 30, 2008; 2:33 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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