Update on the Florida Primary

Robert Siegel looks at the latest results coming from the Florida primary and talks with NPR's Greg Allen at Sen. John McCain's primary headquarters in Miami. He then talks with NPR's Scott Horsley at former Massachusett's Gov. Mitt Romney's headquarters. He then talks with NPR Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

I'm Robert Siegel.

And all the polls have now closed in Florida, and here's what we can tell you, so far. The vote count has been underway for about an hour. And for the Republicans, it appears to be an extremely close race between John McCain and Mitt Romney. With about 22 percent of election precincts counted, McCain holds a three-point lead 34 to 31 percent over Romney, Rudolph Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee trail a bit behind.

All signs points to another very high turnout. For the Democrats, it's kind of complicated. The party has said that it will not seat Florida's delegates at the convention, and the candidates have not campaigned there, but Hillary Clinton is running far ahead in the early count, and she's holding an event in Florida this evening.

We're going to focus on the Republicans and we're joined by NPR's Greg Allen. He's at Senator John McCain's campaign headquarters in Miami.

And Greg, how would you describe the mood there.

GREG ALLEN: Well, the people are starting to arrive here. The campaign supporters of Senator McCain, and they seem kind of expectant, milling around. I don't think they know as much as a lot of people in the media about the polls, you know, and they're looking at the - and what we're seeing coming in on the television monitors; we know that it's a very tight race. I don't think anybody really knows what to expect here tonight and you get that sense when you talk to people.

SIEGEL: Senator McCain appears to have benefited from some late endorsements in the Florida campaigns, some important ones in Florida.

ALLEN: Yeah, that's right, Robert. He, of course, last Friday, he had a big endorsement from Senator Mel Martinez who's a Republican senator from Florida, and he happens to be the highest ranking Cuban-American official in the state. That had to carry some weight. But even maybe more importantly was their endorsement from Governor Charlie Crist, a very popular governor here. His ratings are very high. And Governor Crist campaigned a little bit with Senator McCain and appeared with him, and we'll see what effect that might have with him. McCain campaign is hoping that last-minute, a little endorsement might help put him over the top.

SIEGEL: Okay, kind of tough exchanges between McCain and Romney today in Florida.

ALLEN: It gives you a sense of what's at stake, doesn't it? You know, we got 57 delegates here which is the largest of any contest up to now on the Republican side. And it's winner take all, so really there's no, you know, there's no consolation prize for the second-place winner, second-place finisher here. And you can tell how tight it was because when Senator McCain was - when Romney started push, say that it was all about the economy, and Senator McCain was not a good economics steward, Senator McCain hit back very hard, said it was the economy was important and he was a very good economics steward, but said national security is also an important issue. And as we're seeing tonight from the voters, I think both those issues were really important for Republican voters when they went to the polls today.

SIEGEL: Okay, Greg, we'll talk to you later.

That's NPR's Greg Allen who's Senator McCain's campaign headquarters or primary night headquarters in Miami.

Right now, a quarter of the vote has been counted in the Republican primary in Florida, and John McCain still leads by three points, 34 percent to 31 percent over Mitt Romney.

We're going to go to the Romney campaign now where NPR's Scott Horsley is watching things.

Hello, Scott. What's going on there?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, I guess, you would have say the mood here is - it's somewhat on edge, Robert, that both the bar and the buffet table are well stocked, and I think the people here are expecting a long night. We've been saying for days now that this is going to be a tight contest between John McCain and Mitt Romney, and it's shaping up just as we thought it would.

SIEGEL: The exit polls have shown what issue's that have great concern to people, to voters in Florida, and the economy was by far and away, the greatest issue, I gather that the Romney camp thought that would benefit them a great deal.

HORSLEY: Absolutely, in fact, there's an enormous sign hanging up here at the - in the grand hall of the lyceum in St. Petersburg that says economic turnaround. And Mitt Romney has been on economic concerns that the (unintelligible) for his campaign in his favor. That was, in fact, his winning formula in Michigan. He's been hammering away all week on his skills, in the private sector, his experience as a successful business consultant or private equity investor. He's been attacking Senator McCain's credentials, saying he doesn't really understand the economy, criticizing the senator's proposal on global warming thing, it would cost Florida families a thousand dollars each.

And as you said, the exit polls suggest Florida voters were in agreement, at least, or half of that, they were very concerned about the economy. But whether they buy the argument that Mitt Romney is the best steward for the U.S. economy, I guess, they tell the tale of how this comes out tonight.

SIEGEL: And Scott, we'll be checking with you as the evening progresses. Take care now.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Horsley at the Romney campaign headquarters. The measure of how close this is, with I believe about 26 percent of the election districts counted now in Florida. The gap is narrow only about 18,000 votes separating John McCain and Mitt Romney that comes to just two points, a 34 to 32 percent of the vote.

Joining me in the studio is NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving.

Ron, it looks like judging of what we're seeing in the vote count and from what we've seen of exit polls, I think we could learn who wins this the old-fashion way by seeing the votes counted?

RON ELVING: Delightful in a way...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

ELVING: ...I believe. It's fun to watch the vote pile up, as long as it doesn't take all-night long or (unintelligible)...

SIEGEL: Weeks (unintelligible).

ELVING: I don't think we'll have to wait quite that long. And because the vote is coming in rather quickly, I believe, we'll probably see a result her in the next hour or so. The exit polls really are only meant to tell you when there's a definitive winner, a crushing winner perhaps. And in this particular instance, the polls have been showing us and everything else has been showing us, all the reporting has shown us, that this race is absolutely, between these two men, too close to call.

SIEGEL: Yeah, however, on the Republican side, it's probably shown us a couple of definitive losers. For one, Rudolph Giuliani, who staked his entire campaign after he pulled out of his mother states early on Florida, making a big showing in Florida, he is nowhere close to these two.

ELVING: Well, he's trailing behind by more than 10 points. He really has met, kind of, 15 points. He's not going to be in the running for number one or number two and he's fighting hard just to be number three.

SIEGEL: And Mike Huckabee. Florida is a southern state, a state with lots of voters who would fit the description of pro-Huckabee voters but he's not challenging Romney or McCain (unintelligible).

ELVING: Mike Huckabee really never had a chance to compete in Florida because he's broke. He has no money, he couldn't buy ads. Mitt Romney overwhelmed the other candidates in terms of how many ads he could put onto TV in recent weeks. And he has been on television in Florida beginning in March of 2007, but Mike Huckabee was just flat broke and had to go to states where he could compete with less money.

SIEGEL: And talk about the Democratic race where Hillary Clinton is running so far, ahead of Barack Obama with almost a third of the vote counted. It's clear that she's going to come out in front but this is a primary that conveys no delegates and there was supposedly no real campaigning for it.

ELVING: We saw and analogy here. In Michigan, a couple of weeks ago, another situation where the state had jumped ahead of its assigned area for the calendar, and was holding this early primary; they were given the death penalty by the Democratic National Committee. And not only were they given no more delegates or just zeroed out for delegates but all the candidates were asked not to campaign there. They all signed up a pledge not to do so, including Hillary Clinton. But in the last couple of days, she has began making statements about how she doesn't like this arrangement and things that Floridians should have there votes count for delegates.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Ron. And we repeat on the Republican side, it's winner take all for 57 delegates. It is very close about 30 percent of the vote has been counted, 34 percent for McCain, a 33 percent for Romney at this point, a fewer than 10,000 votes separating the two leading candidates in the Republican presidential primary in Florida.

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