The battle between McCain and Romney has taken on increasingly personal overtones, as they squabble over each others' conservative credentials -- a battle that neither of them is fully comfortable waging. For these men, this is a vile curse word: They spent their final full day campaigning in Florida calling each other "liberal."
Romney: "If you want that kind of a liberal Democratic course as president, then you can vote for him." McCain: "People, just look at his record as governor."
The winner gets all 57 Republican convention delegates -- the biggest haul to date -- and Florida "could produce a clear front-runner for the party's presidential nomination before a virtual national primary next week," John M. Broder and Michael Luo write in The New York Times.
"Florida may be Mr. Romney's last chance to stop Mr. McCain from being anointed the front-runner in the Republican field."
McCain is closing strong -- buffeted by the endorsements of Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., and Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. (Which almost certainly means he'll be drubbed on Tuesday, given the tendency of voters to defy the pundits this cycle.)
"McCain and Romney are scrapping like lonely bridesmaids over a wedding bouquet," per the St. Petersburg Times overview. "They traded charges in TV and radio ads and in dueling news releases as they crisscrossed the state, and both campaigns complained of push-polling -- hit jobs masquerading as opinion polls."
Independents can't help McCain this time: "Florida's GOP primary will be the first of the 2008 campaign open only to Republicans, making it a clearer test of a candidate's appeal to the party's conservative base," Michael Shear and Perry Bacon Jr. write in The Washington Post. "McCain, in particular, will have to win without the support of independents, who helped him prevail in New Hampshire and South Carolina. It is also the largest, most diverse state to vote so far, and one whose residents are struggling with a depressed housing market and a faltering economy."
Surprise -- Romney has run more ads than anyone else in Florida, once again. Of 8,012 TV spots tracked by Nielsen Monitor-Plus, Romney aired more than half of them: 4,475, followed by 3,067 for Rudy Giuliani, per Joanna Weiss of The Boston Globe. "John McCain has run 470 ads, all of them this month," she writes. (Read those numbers again -- how is McCain in this race?) http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2008/01/the_florida_ad.html
Rudy, unlike his rivals, is closing out with sunshine in the Sunshine State. "We think that's how Mike Huckabee won in Iowa and we think the two candidates, John and Mitt, are really attacking each other now pretty relentlessly, very strongly," Giuliani tells the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody. "We think people of Florida want to hear a positive message."
(And yes, he's so positive that he's happy about the fact that Florida newspapers AREN'T endorsing him.)
On the Democratic side in Florida, there's an election that only matters if you want it to. And whether you want it to depends wholly and entirely on two factors: 1) Whether you live in Florida; and 2) The candidate you support for the Democratic nomination.