Saturday, January 26, 2008

McCain Pulling Out in Florida

The latest Zogby tracking poll on the Florida GOP primary has John McCain pulling back into the lead heading into Tuesday's primary:

Arizona Sen. John McCain holds a small 31% to 28% lead over rival Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, with others well back, the Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby telephone tracking poll in Florida shows. The contest is the first in which former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has campaigned intently, but he lags in a distant third place with 15% support. Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee is fourth with 10% support.

McCain leads Romney among men, 33% to 27%, with Giuliani at 18%. Among women, Romney holds a tiny 29% to 28% edge, with Giuliani and Huckabee tied at 12%. Ron Paul dominates among Florida Republicans under age 30, but McCain leads among those age 30-49. McCain and Romney are tied among those age 50-64, but Romney holds the edge among those age 65 and older.

McCain leads among moderate Republicans, is tied with Romney among mainline conservatives, while Romney leads among those who consider themselves “very conservative.” McCain, Romney, and Huckabee are bunched at the top among those who consider themselves Born Again, while Romney leads among those who are not. McCain leads among Catholics.
It's certainly close.

McCain may have gained a one day advantage today, however. Not only did he win today's media spin cycle by putting
Romney on the defense on national security, Florida Governor Charlie Crist endorsed the Arizona Senator, throwing another top member of the Sunshine State's GOP political establishment onto the Straight Talk Express bandwagon.

Chris Cillizza dicusses the situation:

Even as the political class was digesting the news of Sen. Barack Obama's (Ill.) overwhelming victory in South Carolina's Democratic primary, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) scored the endorsement of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) - a major development in advance of the Sunshine State's Tuesday primary.

"I don't know anybody would do better than the man who stands next to me -- Senator John McCain," said Crist at a campaign rally in Pinellas County. "That's an endorsement."

McCain called it an "honor and privilege" to win the endorsement of the popular Crist.

In endorsing McCain, Crist follows in the footsteps of Sen. Mel Martinez, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Martinez formally endorsed McCain yesterday.

First elected in 2006, Crist continues to enjoy strong job approval ratings. A recent Strategic Vision survey showed 60 percent of voters approving of the job Crist has done with just 33 percent disapproving.

The twin endorsements come as independent polling shows Florida to be a two-way race between McCain and former governor Mitt Romney. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has cast Florida as the firewall of his late-starting campaign, runs a distant third.

Regular Fix readers know we tend to be skeptical of the impact of a single endorsement in a presidential contest. And, we stick by that skepticism. But, Crist's endorsement of McCain will likely make the front page of every newspaper in the state tomorrow -- a nice bump of free press for the Arizona Senator just forty eight hours before Floridians vote. (Kudos to the McCain team who timed Crist's endorsement just as all the cable networks were analyzing the Obama victory - ensuring that any person even remotely interested in politics who had tuned in would catch the news.)

In a race as tight as polls suggest Florida will be, every little bit helps. And, while Romney will almost certainly pooh-pooh the importance of this endorsement, make no mistake: he would have loved to be standing next to Crist at that podium tonight.

Don't forget that McCain still holds a substantial lead nationally in public opinion polling. A win Tuesday will finally cement McCain's tentative frontrunner position once and for all.