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McCain wins Florida; two more drop out

The Florida primary boosted the aspirations of some candidates while proving to be the last straw for others.

Arizona Sen. John McCain was, by far, the biggest winner Tuesday. He finished first in the Republican race to cement his status as the front-runner going into next Tuesday's 22-state contest. McCain took 36 percent of the vote compared with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 31 percent for second place.

McCain's fortunes rose even higher with the decision by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to quit the race after a disappointing third-place finish with only 15 percent of the vote. Giuliani then endorsed McCain.

Giuliani's fate was the apparent result of a bad gamble. Just six months ago, he polled higher than any of the other GOP candidates and was viewed as the obvious national front-runner.

But he opted to skip the Iowa caucus and the rest of the early primaries to concentrate all his efforts on Florida, where, even after spending millions of dollars and months criss-crossing the state, his poll numbers took a steady nosedive and his first hope became his last hope, and then no hope at all.

This Giuliani campaign is likely to serve as the model for strategic disaster and squandered chances for years to come. While Giuliani may never have been destined to win the nomination, his late start erased any chance of capitalizing on his early front-runner status.

The Democratic primary, such as it was, was far less dramatic. Because Florida's Democratic Party had elected to buck national party rules and hold its primary before Super Tuesday, the national party refused to recognize its delegates. And in compliance with party rules, all the Democratic candidates had pledged not to campaign in Florida.

But Democratic voters in the Sunshine State did cast ballots Tuesday, and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who got 50 percent of those votes, was in the state for fundraising events.

Earlier in the week, Clinton had promised Florida Democrats she would work to see that their delegates were seated. This appeared to be part of a thinly veiled, long-term strategy to claim delegates if she needs them down the road.

Whether this cosmetic win gave Clinton a boost after being trounced by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in last week's South Carolina primary might not be known until next Tuesday. Meanwhile, Obama undoubtedly will try to downplay the significance of Tuesday's vote.

But while the Democratic contest in Florida technically didn't count, it was the end of the road for former N.C. Sen. John Edwards, who officially withdrew from the race Wednesday. Edwards did not endorse either Clinton or Obama.

This is the second unsuccessful presidential run for Edwards, a son of South Carolina, who was Sen. John Kerry's running mate in 2004. Edwards had been counting on a strong showing in South Carolina but finished a weak third.

Nonetheless, he consistently was in the top tier of a crowded field of Democratic candidates, and struck a chord with many voters with his pledge to fight poverty, stand up for the average working man and fight the institutions that have contributed to the increasing disparity in wealth in the nation.

Both Clinton and Obama no doubt will adopt parts of Edwards' theme as their own in the days ahead, which should be evident when they debate tonight. Tune in, it could be a doozy.

IN SUMMARY

Sunshine State primary also marked the end of the race for Edwards and Giuiliani.

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