Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R) introduces Republican presidential candidate US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) during a rally at the convention center of Tampa, Florida January 28, 2008.
The US Republican presidential primary in Florida ended on Tuesday with Arizona Senator John McCain scoring victory, which left him with a more promising prospect in the full-scale race on "Super Tuesday" next week.
McCain garnered 36 percent of the votes against 31 percent by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, with all the precincts' ballots having been calculated.
"It shows one thing. I'm the conservative leader who can unite the party," McCain told his supporters Tuesday night. "It's a very significant boost, but I think we've got a tough week ahead and a lot of states to come."
The victory does not only mean 57 national convention delegates are for McCain, but a significant boost as well to his momentum ahead of February 5, the decisive date when a total 22 states will elect their party's presidential candidates.
Romney, who has put millions of his personal wealth into his campaign in Florida, said he would remain as a player in the race. With three states in his pocket, he has lost the two key states of South Carolina and Florida to Republican contenders.
"At a time like this, America needs a president in the White House who has actually had a job in the real economy," he told supporters.
The longest-term player in Florida's primary, former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani was left far behind in third place with 15 percent of the votes, fueling speculation on whether he would stay in the race or endorse his close friend McCain.
Driven by a "big-state strategy", Giuliani concentrated his campaign fund and time on Florida's primary, whose rule is "winner-take-all," and almost skipped other states that held earlier primaries and caucuses.
However, the once leading candidate in the national poll could hardly make it to the top two Tuesday night, virtually indicating his strategy has failed.
CNN reports said Giuliani's campaign has met with McCain's team in private, and the former would probably announce his decision to drop out of the race to endorse the latter.
The Iowa Republican winner, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee who could hardly restore his lead in the following races, ranked fourth on 14 percent in Florida, leaving him with a dim prospect on February 5.
Like their counterparts across the states that have held primaries or caucuses, most Florida Republican voters said that the economy was their main concern when they decide on candidates, according to the CNN exit polls.
Compared to 47 percent of voters caring more about the economy, 19 percent listed terrorism as their top concern, 17 percent cited illegal immigration and 13 percent said their biggest headache was the Iraq war.
Florida has long played a key role in the general election for Republicans. No Republican candidate has won the White House without Florida since 1924.
(Xinhua News Agency January 30, 2008)