The Sunshine State Becomes the Sunset State

The Republican presidential race turns to Florida’s winner-take-all primary one week from today. For at least one presidential candidate, Florida will be the end of the road, the setting of the sun on his presidential ambitions. The most likely loser will be Rudy Giuliani. He has been out of the running in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina, and when you are out of the running you are out of the news. The big lead he had in national polls, and consequently in Florida’s earlier polls, has evaporated. When voters in the sunshine state started to pay attention, they saw news about Romney, McCain and Huckabee, they heard their victory speeches, their interviews on Good Morning America. John McCain’s margin of victory in South Carolina came from Independent voters. But, Florida has a closed primary, that is, only Republicans can vote in it. Republicans who want to win in November should be flocking to McCain precisely because he has demonstrated the ability to attract Independents, the people who will decide the election. (A similar dynamic has emerged among the Democrats with Obama demonstrating an ability to attract Independents.) But, voters may not be that savvy and McCain’s many enemies will try and alienate key GOP constituencies from him. Mitt Romney came out ahead in one recent Florida polls. And, Romney has something the other candidates do not: limitless campaign funds. He is in the race no matter what happens in Florida. Romney would like to win the state, and he can survive a Giuliani victory, hoping that his ad buys on Tsunami Tuesday will propel him to the nomination. The one thing that stands in his way is also the most likely thing in his way: a McCain victory in Florida will give the Arizona senator so much momentum, he will be unstoppable. Florida is also the first state with a sizable Latino population, although the Cubans in Miami and the Puerto Ricans in the I-4 corridor in the center of the state do not have the immigration problems other Latinos do. Still, McCain’s consistent defense of human immigration reform will stand him well compared to the race-baiting that consumed Guiliani and Romney earlier. Ethnic Catholics who won’t vote for Guiliani because of his stance on life issues, Latinos, and veterans, may be enough to give McCain the victory he needs. Michael Sean Winters
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