Posted: January 21, 2008 4:22 PM
GOP Field Has All Eyes on Florida Contest
Sen. John McCain’s narrow victory over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in South Carolina’s primary Saturday has many predicting the Arizona lawmaker will be the Republican to beat heading into the 22-state contest on Feb. 5 — but GOP candidates still face a crucial contest in Florida before the Super Tuesday mega-vote.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giulaini has made Florida his chief focus while the rest of the GOP field concentrated on earlier primaries and caucuses. Giuliani is hoping a Jan. 29 win in Sunshine State, combined with his national name-recognition, will establish him as a front-runner. Not everyone, however, is convinced his strategy will work.
“Giuliani still has the star power to draw a crowd, but so far he has failed to translate that into votes, turning in dismal near-bottom finishes in six GOP primaries where he flirted with voters before walking away,” Newsday reported.
A recent Associated Press poll shows Giuliani currently tied for second with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 19 percent support behind McCain’s 34 percent.
Hoping to stay strong in the contest, Giuliani, known for his repeated message on the importance of national security, has shifted his campaign focus to the economy, an “issue that has recently emerged’:http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan-june08/economy_01-10.html as the top concern for many American voters.
“The case for me is that I am the strongest fiscal conservative in the race, and that I have a record of supporting tax cuts,” Giuliani said Sunday, adding that he would implement the largest tax cut in U.S. history, the Washington Post reported.
While the Giuliani camp strives to convince voters of the former mayor’s domestic savvy, the McCain team is facing its own challenges despite strong polling numbers.
Independent voters, whose support boosted McCain in the New Hampshire and South Carolina contests, will be excluded from the Florida contest, so McCain will have to rely on his appeal to conservative Republicans in the state.
Gaining support from the state’s Republican base will also mean competing with considerable ad buying power from McCain’s rivals.
“Romney has ordered up about $1 million in TV commercials, and an adviser said more might be bought depending on the state of the race,” the Washington Post found. “McCain’s campaign has promised to counter with a seven-figure buy of its own.”
Florida is the largest and most diverse state to vote so far in the 2008 nominating contests, with a population of 18 million, which is 20 percent Hispanic and 16 percent African-American.
With rising pressure across the Republican field, Huckabee and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson must also turn out strong performances in Florida.
Huckabee hopes to prove to voters that his Iowa win is reflective of his national appeal and electability, while Thompson, who edged out Romney for third in South Carolina, needs a boost of momentum from Florida to make him viable on Feb. 5.
Fifty-seven delegates are at stake for the Republican Party in Florida. Like Michigan, Florida was punished for moving its primary up before Feb. 5. The Republicans lost half their delegates, and no delegates are assigned for the Democrats.