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Win puts McCain on top

Giuliani hints he'll drop out; Clinton lands Florida victory

January 30, 2008|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

A distinct advantage for McCain in Florida was a spate of late endorsements. Last week he won the support of Florida's top Cuban American elected official, Sen. Mel Martinez, along with Crist, a popular governor.

By winning Florida, McCain has put himself "in an extremely good position to win the Republican nomination next Tuesday," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Connecticut.

Among McCain's key supporters in Florida were moderates, Latinos and voters older than 65, according to an exit poll conducted for television networks and the Associated Press. And in a worrisome sign for Romney, voters who ranked the economy as the country's top issue also favored McCain.

Advisors to Romney suggested that he could still surpass McCain by positioning himself as a more conservative alternative.

"Conservatives have a choice now, and it's a clear choice," said Jay Sekulow, a lawyer and Romney advisor. "You've got a conservative and you've got John McCain."

For Huckabee, the path to the Republican nomination appears increasingly difficult, if not impossible.

His victory in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 made him a serious, if underfunded, contender. But his loss just over two weeks later in the South Carolina primary showed that Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, could not easily broaden his reach beyond a base of culturally conservative evangelicals.

His political leanings fit some of the more conservative states voting on Feb. 5 -- Alabama and Tennessee, for instance -- but the math for Huckabee to accrue enough delegates to win the nomination appears extremely challenging.

For McCain, Florida's prize of 57 delegates is half the size of what it could have been. The Republican National Committee stripped Florida of half of its delegates after the state scheduled its primary earlier than allowed by party rules.

(The Democratic National Committee punished Florida by taking away all of its delegates to the party's national nominating convention this summer.)

From Florida, the Republican contenders head to California. At 5 p.m. today at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley, they will face off in a debate sponsored by The Times, CNN and Politico.com.

michael.finnegan@ latimes.com

Time staff writers Mark Z. Barabak and Maeve Reston in Miami, Louise Roug in Orlando, Seema Mehta in St. Petersburg and Dan Morain in Sacramento contributed to this reportarticle.

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

PRIMARY RESULTS

McCAIN

36%

693,425

ROMNEY

31%

598,152

GIULIANI

15%

281,755

HUCKABEE

13%

259,703

99% of precincts reporting

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Florida primary

Republican results

John McCain: 36%

Mitt Romney: 31%

Rudolph W. Giuliani: 15%

Mike Huckabee: 13%

Ron Paul: 3%

99% of precincts reporting

Democratic results

Hillary Rodham Clinton: 50%

Barack Obama: 33%

John Edwards: 14%

99% of precincts reporting

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