McCain holds off Romney for Florida win

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) solidified his frontrunner status in the race for the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday after winning Florida’s GOP primary over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

McCain was able to hold off a stiff challenge from Romney behind the backing of the state’s two top Republicans – Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez. In the process, the senator proved that he is able to be victorious in a major closed primary. McCain’s previous wins came in states that allow non-Republicans to vote.

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The campaigning between Romney and McCain took a decidedly negative turn in the closing days of the race as both candidates accused the other of being too liberal to be the Republican nominee.

Polls leading up to the race showed that Romney was viewed as the better candidate to deal with the economy, the issue that has taken the place of the Iraq war as voters’ top concern.

But McCain was seen by voters as better equipped to deal with national security issues.

McCain’s Tuesday night win comes on the heels of victories in South Carolina and New Hampshire and puts him in the driver’s seat heading into the 21 contests that make up next week’s Super Tuesday.

Romney won three contests in the early going – Wyoming, Michigan and Nevada – and he has substantial resources that would indicate he will live to battle McCain in the next round.

The victory also brings McCain a step closer to completing a remarkable political comeback. His campaign was left for dead by political pundits after it imploded last summer.

While Romney, McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will likely continue to fight on through at least the next round, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s loss raises doubts about his future as a candidate.

Giuliani’s campaign was built around a win in Florida after the former mayor largely sat out the earlier contests.