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McCain, Clinton Take Florida

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If Florida really is diverse enough to be a predictive microcosm of the United States, as pundits have claimed, last nights wins could be harbingers of good things to come for Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Tuesday's primary was an especially bitter one on the Republican side with McCain and Gov. Mitt Romney continuing to duke it out for the Republican nomination until the bitter end.

The latest primary results indicated that there could still be brokered conventions for both parties.

"It's not over yet," at least four candidates told TV interviewers in the wake of returns coming in from the Sunshine State showing Clinton - McCain victories.

"I intend to be the nominee of this party," McCain told his supporters at the post-election gathering in Miami, attended in large numbers by members of the foreign press. "I am a proud conservative."

Sen. Clinton told an overflow crowd, with visible pride, "We won."

For weeks, pundits, especially TV commentators, have been claiming that voters in Florida - the fourth largest state in the nation - are indicative of how the rest of America will cast their ballots on Super Tuesday, Feb.5.

"We could save millions of dollars if the conventions were held right now rather than spreading this over so many months," said Ron Mills, a Democratic activist, who joined a throng of devotees at a Fort Lauderdale post-election rally where Sen. Clinton was on hand to savor Tuesday's big victory

If Florida truly has the demographics to predict what is going on in the remaining 45 states - or at least the 22 voting next week, some four million Floridians - a record turnout (which included one million absentee ballots) - provided the answer Tuesday. The response overwhelmingly suggested that both parties have "leading contenders".

Marith Martinez, born in Colombia and voting for the first time as a U.S. citizen, joined the huge party for Clinton. "Senator Clinton has cojones," she said, telling all in earshot that the Latino vote would go Democratic in 2008 in numbers that would astound everyone.

At the same time, the close call between McCain and Romney just seemed to prolong the battle of the Republicans, even though McCain will get Florida's 57 delegate votes. The influential Miami Herald called the GOP contest "the most intense primary in decades." The two Republican frontrunners were pictured as juveniles as their supporters used hateful emails and phone calls to discredit one another. Romney was portrayed as a "flip-flopping liberal" while McCain also got tied to the "L" word "for his support of Democratic causes." Political observers are still trying to construe how Florida conservatives actually voted. Their supposed favorite - Gov. Mike Huckabee - got only 13 per cent of the vote, just short of Mayor Rudy Giuliani's lagging third place finish but Huckabee said he is "going for all nine innings in this ballgame."

Almost certain to be on the sidelines shortly is Giuliani whose disappointing showing was a blow after bellowing he would make his stand in the Big State of Florida. Insiders say that if Giuliani was depending on transplanted New Yorkers and the elderly to win Florida, his staff had miscalculated.

"Most of these transplants and over 65 voters are Democrats," said Chris Chiari, a Democratic legislative candidate.

Rumors swirled Tuesday evening that Giuliani - who reportedly had spent 35 million dollars on his campaign - might endorse McCain "within hours." McCain gave an especially favorable commendation to "my dear friend Rudy Giuliani" whom he called "an inspiration" in his post-election speech.

In a concession speech, Romney for the first time invoked the name Bush, thanking the president "for keeping us safe." It was an obvious pitch for conservative votes in the 21 States voting in GOP primaries next week. There was every indication that Romney intends to fight it out with McCain all the way to the Minneapolis-St. Paul GOP convention in September.

While the Clinton people celebrated wildly at a packed auditorium in Florida's most Democratic county -Broward, supporters of Sen. Barack Obama had a more subdued post-election "primary watch party" in Northeast Miami and John Edwards loyalists met at scattered taverns in South Florida, toasting "what might have been."

Florida - as well as Michigan - ran afoul of delegate-selection rules, touching off both a public-relations battle and some court spats. The four states that the Democrats permitted to go before Feb. 5 -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- made presidential candidates sign a " pledge" to boycott Florida for defying the national rules.

"The Florida vote will count -- and, so will all its delegates," Florida Sen. Bill Nelson told the post-election Clinton rally in Fort Lauderdale. Sen. Clinton also told the audience that she would fight to have the Florida delegation seated at the Denver convention.

But, most political pundits say that if there is still a raging contest for the nomination next summer, no candidate is going to want to bring in votes that might put someone else over the top.

"Clinton and Obama really do not like one another," said one campaign worker, who referred to the oft-repeated televised snub of Clinton by Obama during the President's State of the Union address Monday night.

Many of those at the post-election Clinton rally privately were saying that they would have voted for Edwards if the choice had not been to finally see a woman and an African-American on the ballot.

"Oh, well, Edwards is sure to get a Cabinet post or a Supreme Court nomination in a Clinton administration," said several e-mails that emerged following the Florida vote. Obama supporters sent out a similar email.

There were post-election parties throughout Florida Tuesday evening, even on South Beach where one nightclub sent out email blasts asking Dems to "Party with Swingers Cause We Swung The Vote."

McCain reminded his post-election rally that "this was an all-Republican win," noting that independents could not vote in the Florida primary, as they did in the earlier states.

On Feb. 5 - essentially a national primary - Democrats will choose 2,075 delegates in 22 states (plus "Democrats abroad") and Republicans will select 1,073 delegates in 21 states. That's about half the total needed for the Democratic nomination and just 100 fewer than a GOP candidate needs to go over the top. The GOP races are mostly in winner-take-all states, like New York, New Jersey and Arizona.