McCain wins; Giuliani out?


Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney pauses during his speech at his primary watch party in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 12:25 a.m.

MIAMI - Next stop, 21 states at once, the Republican presidential nomination the prize.

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Sen. John McCain won a breakthrough triumph in the Florida primary Tuesday night, seizing the upper hand in the GOP race ahead of next week's coast-to-coast contests and lining up a quick endorsement from soon-to-be dropout Rudy Giuliani.

"It shows one thing: I'm the conservative leader who can unite the party,'' McCain told The Associated Press after easing past former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for his first-ever triumph in a primary open only to Republicans.

The victory was worth 57 Republican National Convention delegates for McCain, a winner-take-all haul that catapulted him ahead of Romney in that category.

Romney, who has spent millions of dollars of his personal fortune to run for the White House, vowed to stay in the race.

"At a time like this, America needs a president in the White House who has actually had a job in the real economy,'' the former businessman told supporters in St. Petersburg.

Giuliani, the former New York mayor, ran third. It was his best showing of the campaign, but not nearly good enough for the one-time front-runner who decided to make his last stand in a state that is home to tens of thousands of transplanted New Yorkers. Several officials familiar with events said he intended to endorse McCain on Wednesday in California.

In remarks to supporters in Orlando, Giuliani referred to his candidacy repeatedly in the past tense - as though it were over. "We'll stay involved and together we'll make sure that we'll do everything we can to hand our nation off to the next generation better than it was before,'' he said.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee ran fourth in the primary but told supporters he would campaign on. Texas Rep. Ron Paul was fifth, and last.

The race goes national next week - McCain said it would be the closest thing to a nationwide primary as any event in history. Twenty-one states hold Republican primaries and caucuses on Tuesday with 1,023 convention delegates at stake.

Returns from 81 percent of Florida's precincts showed McCain, the Arizona senator, with 36 percent of the vote and Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, with 31 percent.

In the overall delegate race, it was McCain 93, Romney 59, Huckabee 40. Paul has four and Giuliani one.

The victory was another step in one of the most remarkable political comebacks of recent times. McCain entered the race the front-runner, then found his campaign out of funds and unraveling last summer as his stands in favor of the Iraq War and a controversial immigration bill proved unpopular.

The war gradually became less of a concern after President Bush's decision to increase troop deployments began to produce results. McCain also sought to readjust his position on immigration.

By the time of the New Hampshire primary, he had retooled his candidacy and ridden his Straight Talk Express campaign bus to over 100 town hall meetings.

He won in New Hampshire, stumbled in Michigan, but won the South Carolina primary last week, taking first place in the state that had snuffed out his presidential hopes in 2000.

Romney's only primary win so far was in Michigan, a state where he grew up and claimed a home-field advantage.

He also has caucus victories to his credit in Wyoming and Nevada.

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