John McCain won the Republican primary in Florida on Tuesday with a decent lead over runner-up Mitt Romney. Rudy Giuliani, who bet it all on the Sunshine State, came in a distant third.
Hillary Clinton stopped by to celebrate an inconsequential victory there with supporters. Florida was stripped of its delegates by the Democratic Party after it moved its primary to an earlier date, and the candidates promised not to campaign there.
The contest between John McCain and Mitt Romney has long resembled a horror movie, a blood-and-guts battle between a man risen from the dead and a candidate seemingly created in a lab. On Tuesday, a resurrected McCain slipped beyond the moneyed Michigan native’s manicured grasp to win by five points in the Florida Republican primary and cement his status as the GOP frontrunner. Romney smiled through a thinly revised version of his ritual stump speech, as though the race hadn’t fundamentally changed. But one could imagine what he might be thinking in the darker recesses of his mind “Why won’t you die?!”
McCain’s victory tonight was his most significant yet, even if it was the ugliest. Most importantly, it was a win among Republicans and only Republicans; unlike New Hampshire or Iowa, there was no “independents’ safety net,” as a Romney staffer put it. A victory in Florida’s closed primary should silence the refrain that has echoed through talk radio and conservative blogs ever since McCain started to claw his way toward the nomination: He’s not a “real Republican.” Says one McCain staffer: “Maybe after they see his name next to an ‘R’ in the general election they’ll change their minds.”