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McCain Wins Tight Battle in Florida

Senator John McCain won the Florida Republican primary on Tuesday, defeating rival Mitt Romney in a close contest that gave momentum to his effort to become the party's U.S. presidential candidate, U.S. media projected.

Presidential Candidate, John McCain
AP
Presidential Candidate, John McCain

The win gave McCain a lift headed into the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday contests, when nearly half the U.S. states choose Democratic and Republican presidential candidates for the November general election.

The victory also blunted criticism that Republican support for the maverick Arizona senator was too weak for him to win a Republicans-only contest that excluded independent voters. Florida's contest was limited to Republicans, unlike earlier states that allowed independents to participate.

McCain had a 36 percent to 32 percent lead on Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, with nearly half of the votes reported.

Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor who staked his campaign on a strong showing in Florida, the fourth most-populous state, was battling for a distant third place with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Mitt Romney (R)
Mitt Romney (R)

NBC News/National Journal confirmed that Giuliani will endorse John McCain tomorrow in California, where Republicans are to debate in the evening.

McCain's win put him at the front of the pack in a seesawing Republican race to pick the party's candidate in November's presidential election. He picks up all of Florida's 57 delegates to the national nominating convention.

McCain and Romney have split the last four contests. McCain won in South Carolina and New Hampshire and Romney carried Michigan and Nevada, the latter a state scarcely contested by other Republicans. Huckabee won the kick-off contest in Iowa.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton easily won a Florida Democratic race that featured no active campaigning because of a dispute between the national and state parties. The national party stripped the state of its delegates to the national convention and Democratic candidates pledged to stay away.

But Clinton, who lost to rival Barack Obama in a landslide in South Carolina on Saturday, visited Florida after polls closed in a bid to claim at least a symbolic victory.

'Thank You Florida'

"Thank you Florida. I could not come here to ask in person for your votes but I am here to thank you for your votes," she told supporters in Davie, Florida.

McCain and Romney have dominated the headlines in Florida with a heated battle over who is best prepared to rescue a struggling economy and lead a country at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. McCain has made gains in polls since his endorsement on Saturday by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

At a voting station in St. Petersburg, McCain questioned Romney's economic record in Massachusetts and lack of foreign policy experience.

"I think that's where the people of Florida will make the judgment on my behalf," McCain said.

Romney, a former venture capitalist, touted his business acumen and painted McCain, who has been in the Senate for more than two decades, as an out-of-touch career politician.

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"To fix Washington you can't just send back Washington politicians who have spent their whole career there and just move them into different chairs," he told a rally in Tampa.

McCain and Romney have split the last four contests. McCain won in South Carolina and New Hampshire and Romney carried Michigan and Nevada, the latter a state scarcely contested by other Republicans. Huckabee won the kick-off contest in Iowa.

Obama, an Illinois senator, visited on Tuesday his maternal grandfather's hometown in the largely rural state of Kansas, which has a Feb. 5 Democratic contest. Obama, who would be the first black president, is the son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother.

On the plane to Kansas, he dismissed speculation he had snubbed Clinton during President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech on Monday evening. Newspaper photos showed Obama turning away as Clinton shook hands with Kennedy.

"Senator Clinton and I have had very cordial relations," Obama said. "I think that there's just a lot more tea-leaf reading going on here than I think people are suggesting."

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