McCain Endorsements Play Huge Role in Race

In yesterday’s Florida GOP primary, more than any other so far, endorsements played a huge roll. Exit polls revealed last-minute endorsements and support from Florida’s senior citizens helped propel John McCain’s win last night. Five percentage points (a larger than expected margin) separated him from Mitt Romney. The final tally was McCain, 693,425 votes (36%), and Romney 598,152 (31%).

Forty-three percent said that McCain’s endorsement from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, was important to their decision, and 51% of those who said it was important went for McCain, 23% for Romeny. Another large demographic for McCain was Hispanic GOP voters and McCain took 50% of their vote. Pollsters speculated that Cuban born Sen. Mel Martinez’s endorsement of McCain helped move this demographic.

As for Florida’s large population of seniors, McCain, 71, won among those 65 and older, with 41% of their vote.

Reports proliferated rumors early in the evening (after Rudy Giuliani’s dismal numbers did not grow beyond third place) of an endorsement by Giuliani of McCain. Giuliani’s campaign has not announced his withdraw from the race nor confirmed or denied the endorsement. But FOX News reported last night that Republican officials, speaking under anonymity, have confirmed that Rudy will endorse McCain perhaps as soon as today before the debate in California tonight. Giuliani would say only that he was “going to California.”

Another endorsement for McCain from a moderate Republican, and a presidential candidate (the first of the GOP frontrunners to endorse a running mate) could be viewed around the nation as the establishment lining up with McCain. This could prove to be a huge boost for McCain in the runup to Super Tuesday.

In his victory speech McCain thanked “Florida Republicans, for bringing a former Florida resident across the finish line first in — as I have been repeatedly reminded lately — an all Republican primary.”

McCain may have won without the edge of Independents, but he obviously did not get a substantial conservative vote. According to exit polls, those who considered themselves very conservative went for Romney by 47% compared to 20% who went for McCain. Those who consider themselves “conservative” again picked Romney by 37% compared to McCain’s 29%. Sixty percent of voters in Florida last night identified themselves as conservatives.

The military vote in Florida only tilted slightly for McCain. With 52,000 active duty personnel in Florida, and 1.75 million veterans (second only to California‘s 2.2 million) McCain was expected to lead in this demographic. Thirty percent of the 1.75 million vets in Florida are Vietnam era vets, and McCain campaigned in the weeks before the primary with legendary war hero Col. George “Bud” Day. An earlier FOX exit poll pertaining only to veterans revealed that McCain was getting 37% from this demographic, while 36% were going with Romney.

Final exit polls showed that 27% of Republican voters in Florida are or have served in the military and of that 27% — 42% went to McCain — while 35% went to Romney.

“Almost but not quite” said Romney as he conceded defeat. Romney is still relying on the polls’ findings that voters are now viewing the economy as the biggest issue in the campaign. He boasted “The economy is in my DNA.” Unfortunately Florida exit polls indicate that where Romney expected to lead — with voters who thought the economy was the most important issue — he did not. The economy was the most important issue in Florida by 45% — but McCain took 40% of those voters while Romney only had 32%.

Knocking McCain, now his toughest competitor, Romney said, “We aren’t going to win Washington by sending the same people back just to sit in different chairs.”

When asked about this statement Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fl) — a McCain supporter — said, “I think McCain is an agent of change and I think he is the kind of leader that can make it work.” On his endorsement of McCain he said “I made a choice to support McCain early. I struggled with whether or not I would make it public, I’m glad I did.”

Florida is a winner-take-all state and McCain left with all 57 of Florida’s delegates with a total count of 97. Heading to tonight’s debate in California Romney is in second place for the first time in a delegate count with 74. Huckabee, with only 29 delegates must hope for a major comeback, the former Arkansas Gov. has only one first place win in Iowa.

In one week we can assume that a clear front runner may emerge from this pack. It is appearing to be a race between McCain and Romney. Going into Tsunami Tuesday where 21 states (the largest-ever simultaneous number of state primaries) will choose their nominee, there are 1,081 delegates up for grabs. California is the largest prize with 173.

Candidates are limited to where they can campaign with only 6 days (after the debate) to rally voters before the Tuesday contest. Unfortunately this means it will be up to the establishment media to push for candidates. With the help of the New York Times endorsing McCain other liberal media outlets may follow, — at least until McCain secures the Republican nomination (if he does). After that, he’ll no longer be the MSM’s “favorite son.”