Sen. Hillary Clinton parachuted into Florida on Tuesday to celebrate a double-digit victory in the state's uncontested presidential primary.
The election was mostly meaningless -- Florida's delegates have been stripped and none of the Democratic candidates campaigned there -- but Clinton's "beauty contest" victory rally was covered by all the cable news networks, and she's sure to receive more positive press heading into the all-important February 5 super-primary.
Yet a closer look at the exit surveys shows some notably positive trends for Clinton's chief rival, Sen. Barack Obama.
Despite losing the state overall by 17 points, Obama actually won more support than Clinton from voters who made up their minds in the last three days (46 percent to 38 percent), in the last week (39-31) and in the last month (47-40).
Clinton did defeat Obama among Floridians who decided on a candidate on the day of the primary. But overwhelmingly, Clinton's support came from those who made up their minds over a month ago (63 percent to 27 percent), and from early voters who used absentee ballots (50-31). Floridians began receiving absentee ballots in late December.
According to the exit polls, those early deciders and early voters made up fully 59 percent of Florida's Democratic electorate.
The results seem to indicate that Obama picked up significant momentum in Florida following his victories in Iowa and South Carolina, as well as his high-profile endorsements (49 percent of Florida voters said Ted Kennedy's support was important to their decision).
"But any momentum seemed to run out today," Clinton strategist Mark Penn countered in a memo emailed to reporters Tuesday evening. "[A]mong those who decided on Election Day, a plurality of those chose Hillary."
True, indeed. But critically -- and perhaps as an indicator of close elections to come -- Clinton's margin of victory among Election Day deciders was the narrowest of all: 34 percent to 30 percent.