Sen. John McCain has defeated former Gov. Mitt Romney in the coveted GOP Florida primary, sending him to next week's critical Feb. 5 multistate battle a bona fide Republican front-runner.
This is McCain's third primary win, having garnered victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but the first in a Republicans-only contest that excluded independent voters.
Just a few months after his campaign was all but dismissed and was struggling in polls on reports of lackluster fundraising and staff shake-ups, the Arizona senator now has national momentum.
"Our victory may not have reached landslide proportions but it is sweet nonetheless," McCain told cheering supporters at a rally in Miami, who yelled "Mac is back!"
"This was a hard-fought election that was worth fighting hard for," he said.
"My friends, in one week we will have as close to a national primary as we've ever had in this country," he said. "I intend to win it and be the nominee of our party."
McCain's victory in the Sunshine State earns him all of Florida's 57 delegates, making him the Republican with the most delegates so far in a race looking increasingly like a delegate-war.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani came in third, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee placed fourth.
The outcome is a crushing blow to the presidential aspirations of Giuliani, who gambled his entire campaign on winning the Florida primary, effectively skipping the earlier state contests.
"It not over until it's over," Giuliani told supporters at a rally in Orlando, repeating the comment back to someone who first yelled it from the crowd.
"Like most Americans, I love competition. I don't back down from a principled fight," Giuliani said.
"The responsibility of leadership doesn't end with a single campaign. If you believe in a cause, it goes on and you continue to fight for it and we will," he said to cheers from the crowd.
However, ABC News' Jake Tapper reports Giuliani will board a plane to California tomorrow morning, as planned. But sources told ABC News that once there, instead of participating in the GOP debate, he will drop out of the presidential race and endorse McCain.
McCain was generous in praising Giuliani during his victory speech.
"I want to thank my dear friend Rudy Giuliani who invested his heart and soul into this primary and who conducted himself with all the qualities of the exceptional American leader he truly is," McCain said tonight.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Clinton won the Florida contest, with Sen. Barack Obama coming in second and former Sen. John Edwards taking third place.
"This has been a record turnout, because Floridians wanted their voices to be heard," Clinton told supporters at a rally in Davie, Fla.
"I promise you that I will do everything I can to make sure not only are Florida's Democratic delegates seated but that Florida is in the winning column for Democrats in 2008," she said.
The contest was widely considered simply a beauty contest because no delegates were up for grabs. The Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of its delegates as punishment for moving its primary date up to January and the candidates maintained a pledge not to campaign there.