Martinez throws support to McCain

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, is endorsed by Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., during a campaign appearance in Miami on Friday.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2008 at 11:03 p.m.

MIAMI - Florida Sen. Mel Martinez endorsed John McCain on Friday, a move likely to give the Republican presidential candidate a crucial boost with the state's Cuban-Americans just days before the primary.

"I understand that he is ready on day one to lead this nation, and I would trust the future and the security of this nation to this man,'' Martinez said in his introduction of McCain at the Latin Builders Association.

He added: "I would not endorse someone that I didn't have total confidence is going to be (Fidel) Castro's worst nightmare,'' repeating the sentence in Spanish.

The decision is a blow to Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor in a close fight with McCain for support of voters in the Cuban-American community.

Florida's primary is Tuesday, and polls show McCain in a close race with Mitt Romney while Giuliani trails in his must-win state.

Martinez and the four-term Arizona senator are longtime friends who worked closely together on, among other issues, a bill that would have created an eventual path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants in the country.

As recently as Thursday night, Martinez indicated he would remain neutral in the race. The move to endorse surprised even his closest advisers.

He plans to spend the three days before the primary campaigning for McCain. It remains to be seen whether Martinez's endorsement will translate into votes given that a significant percentage of voters already have cast absentee and early ballots - many before Giuliani's drop and McCain's ascent in the state.

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