Momentum v. Money

John McCain’s victory in Florida gives him an almost priceless amount of momentum heading into next week’s Tsunami Tuesday when 21 states hold GOP primaries. The "almost" comes from the fact that McCain is facing the one candidate, Mitt Romney, who can dip into his personal fortune and spend $50 million on television ads in all 21 states. Momentum v. money. That is the heart of the GOP race now. Rudy Giuliani is dropping out and endorsing McCain. He may be able to raise $2 or $3 million for McCain in the coming week. There are plenty of wealthy donors in New York City who can afford a second check for $2,000, this time made out to the McCain campaign. Just as important, because Florida’s primary was restricted to registered Republicans, McCain proved tonight that he can win in a primary without the votes of Independent voters. Looking to November, the ability to attract Independents is crucial, so long as you do not alienate the GOP base. Tonight, in Florida, McCain demonstrated he can do both. The dilemma for McCain, and for Republicans, is what to do about illegal immigration. In Florida, where Hispanics were 12% of the voters, McCain’s humane stance on immigration reform earned him 54% of their votes to Romney’s 14%. Asked what issue matters most to them, 16% of GOP voters in Florida said illegal immigration. Republicans have a tough time in November winning without that slice of their base that is rabidly anti-immigrant. They also have a tough time if they nominate someone other than McCain and lose the Latinos. Rush Limbaugh has a big voice with a long reach, and an Old Testament quality hatred for John McCain. He and some other professional McCain-haters will be lining up solidly behind Mitt Romney now that Mike Huckabee is also effectively out of the race. Romney also found his voice in Florida, running as the businessman who can get stuff done against the Washington insider. Combined with Romney’s potentially limitless spending on television ads in the coming week, no one should conclude that the GOP race is over. Had Romney won tonight, it would be difficult to see how McCain could raise the money needed to compete effectively on Tsunami Tuesday. Given McCain’s win, the burden of decision is entirely with Romney. Does he spend an obscene amount of his own money to try and derail McCain? Or does he let the McCain wave run its course and position himself for a Veep nod or a run in 2012? Michael Sean Winters

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