It's a day for at least one political funeral: Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani brings his campaign to a weary close in California.
Former governor Mike Huckabee limps on, though mainly, it seems, to play spoiler (and perhaps to audition for a spot on a ticket).
And former Senator John Edwards makes his way out of the race on Wednesday as well, with a speech in New Orleans, where he launched his campaign 13 months ago. (Finally, he'll get the media attention he's been craving.)
But at the same time, an uneasy marriage is coming together to define the 2008 race. The long, strange trips of Sen. John McCain and the Republican Party take them back to where they started -- into each other's arms. Mostly, they're smiling for the cameras.
Florida's thunderclap delivered McCain the biggest prize yet in the primary season, and the state's 57 (or 114) delegates are an afterthought. McCain, R-Ariz., is now the clear frontrunner in a race that's finally coming into focus, with former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., bringing his checkbook to a fight that could be settled Feb. 5.
"The results were a decisive turning point in the Republican race, effectively winnowing the field to Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney, two candidates with very different backgrounds who have little affection for one another but share a similar challenge in winning over elements of the party suspicious of their ideological credentials," Michael Cooper and Megan Thee write in The New York Times.
McCain won by nearly 100,000 votes, in a sprawling, unwieldy state where he was -- again -- badly outspent, and in a state where independents couldn't be his salvation. It was Republicans who chose McCain over Romney, even if they weren't happy doing it.
"Florida Republicans listened to Roberta McCain: They held their noses and voted for her son," Wes Allison and Jennifer Liberto write in the St. Petersburg Times. The victory gave McCain the "mantle of Republican front-runner and bath[ed] him in a glow of national electability only a week before 21 other states make their picks for the GOP nominee."
"Romney held an advantage over the half of voters who made their decision on the issues, but McCain countered with a strong showing among the remaining half who preferred leadership and personal qualities," ABC's Peyton Craighill and Brian Hartman write in summing up the exit polls. One particularly troublesome data point: "McCain did better than his main rival among economy voters, a group that Romney had hoped to dominate."
Giuliani, R-N.Y., plans to endorse McCain on Wednesday in California, and he'll get out of the race and behind his friend before Wednesday night's Republican debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., with a 3 pm ET event scheduled, ABC's Jake Tapper reports.
Rudy's concession speech Tuesday evening sounded every bit like the farewell it was: "We ran a campaign that was uplifting," Giuliani said. "The responsibility of leadership doesn't end with a single campaign."
Rudy's endorsement matters not just in parts of the country where he can be an effective McCain surrogate, but in echoing a Republican rallying cry. McCain can now consolidate his support in advance of Super Tuesday, with the growing perception that he will clinch the nomination.
McCain "took control of the battle for the Republican presidential nomination -- a prospect that seemed almost unthinkable just a few months ago," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post.