The Florida primary on Tuesday reshaped the battle among Republican presidential candidates with John McCain and Mitt Romney taking momentum to the full-scale race on "Super Tuesday" on February 5.
McCain, the 71-year-old Arizona Senator, has reversed the "underdog" situation he suffered at the beginning of the campaign due to his age and fund-raising, and stood out as a front-runner with rising support among Republican and independent voters.
McCain garnered 36 percent of the votes against 31 percent for former Massachusetts governor Romney, with all the precincts' ballots having been calculated.
The results showed McCain, who is more popular among independent voters than his rivals, also has a strong footing in registered Republican voters.
CNN exit polls showed that compared with Romney, McCain's support rates were 10 percentage points lower, but his support rates among moderate and liberal voters were almost 20 percentage points higher.
With a wider voter base, McCain is expected to sweep the 22 states that will hold their Republican primaries and caucuses on "Super Tuesday".
It is no surprise that McCain, who was taken prisoner during the Vietnam War and has worked on defense and foreign affairs for years in the Senate, win more votes among veterans and those who care about the Iraq war.
In the meantime, he is also popular among those voters who cite the economy as their top concern and who account for 45 percent of the total. In contrast, Romney, a successful businessman, has always paraded his experience in handling economic issues during his campaign.
According to CNN political correspondents, McCain's character matters when voters look at the candidates' trustworthiness, which has haunted Romney for his changeable message on issues including abortion.
However, Romney will remain as a major contender and hinge his fate on the performance on "Super Tuesday", analysts said.
Finishing third in Florida, with 15 percentage points lower than the second, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's "big-state strategy" has virtually failed.
CNN reports said he would probably leave the game and stand behind McCain soon. Political analysts are still wondering why Giuliani dropped from No. 1 in the national poll and has appeared to be the first major candidate to go.
The Florida primary is less important for the Democrats as the Democratic National Committee stripped the state of all its 210 convention delegates for violating party rules by holding its primary earlier than February 5.
However, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's win is still expected to shore up her momentum to lead on "Super Tuesday".
Once again, females, seniors and Latino voters, who take up a large share of Florida Democratic voters, pushed the former First Lady to the top, according to the exit polls.
(Xinhua News Agency January 31, 2008)