Wednesday, January 30, 2008

St. Petersburg Times editorial: Florida matters after all

So Florida matters after all. The heavy voter turnout in the state's presidential primary election did not produce a stunning upset or a big surprise in either party's nomination battle. However, John McCain's victory over Mitt Romney made him the Republican front-runner, at least for now. Florida Democrats, meanwhile, tapped the brakes on Barack Obama's momentum coming off a crushing victory over Hillary Clinton in South Carolina last Saturday.

McCain needed the Florida victory to show that he can win in a Republican-only primary and to recharge his fundraising campaign. For Romney, a win here was his best hope of gaining the advantage going into Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, when 22 states will provide the big bang of this primary season.

Rudy Giuliani gambled everything on the Sunshine State and came in a distant third, just ahead of Mike Huckabee. There were reports that Giuliani plans to drop out of the race and endorse McCain, perhaps as early as today.

Florida's Democratic vote cannot be ignored, even though some candidates have dismissed it as a meaningless beauty contest.

In agreeing not to campaign in Florida to appease the early caucus and primary states, her Democratic rivals gave Clinton a free pass. We will never know if Obama might have upset Clinton, or at least run a close race, had he actively campaigned in Florida. The Obama campaign spin is that the Florida vote doesn't amount to much because the candidates didn't campaign here and no Democratic delegates were at stake.

After ignoring Florida, Clinton wasted little time trying to make Tuesday's vote appear to be a "resounding" political victory. Even though she went along with the boycott, Clinton flew into the state Tuesday after the polls closed to assure state Democrats that if she is the nominee, she will see that Florida's delegates are seated. At least she now acknowledges that Florida exists.

To their credit, Florida Democrats did not allow their candidates' snub to keep them from voting in this historic election.

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