Republican Candidates Address Florida Supporters

Former Gov. Mitt Romney addresses supporters after coming in second in Florida's Republican primary. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani congratulates Sen. John McCain and Romney for their first-and second-place finishes in Florida. Robert Siegel talks with political analysts EJ Dionne, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist at the Washington Post, and David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

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

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

And we turn now to St. Petersburg, Florida where Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is addressing his supporters. Romney came in second in the Republican primary today to John McCain that counted more than two-thirds of the polling places - the votes from polling places in Florida now. And the margin is about 60,000 votes, about four percent.

Here's some of what Mitt Romney is saying.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): …kids first and the unions behind.

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mr. ROMNEY: And to build strong families will teach our kids that before they have babies, they should get married.

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mr. ROMNEY: So we'll strengthen our families, and we'll strengthen our military. We need more troops.

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Mr. ROMNEY: We need better funding, we need better equipment, and we need better care for our veterans.

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mr. ROMNEY: And let's point out to all those who criticize President Bush that it's thanks to him that we've been safe these last six years.

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mr. ROMNEY: So strengthen our families and strengthen our military, and finally, we need to strengthen our economy.

I've spent my entire life in the real economy. I know why jobs come; I know why they go. I've been doing business in 20 countries around the world. I've run small business and large business. The economy is in my DNA. Many of the people across our country are worried about their retirement accounts. They wonder if they can pay for the college education of their child. They see their largest asset, their home value dropping.

Some wonder if their job is going to be secure in a new global economy. Americans wonder how they can afford the rising cost of health care, and gasoline, and taxes. These are real challenges. At a time like this, America needs a president in the White House who has actually had a job in the real economy.

(Soundbite of cheers)

SIEGEL: Mitt Romney. That a reference to John McCain, the winner in Florida, who spent a career, first, in uniform, in the Navy, and then as a member of Congress, first in the House of Representatives and then in the United States Senate from Arizona.

Mitt Romney placed second. Rudolph Giuliani has placed third, although Mike Huckabee is pretty close behind him.

A few moments ago, the former mayor of New York City addressed his supporters, and he, like Mitt Romney later, congratulated the winner today.

Mr. RUDOLPH GIULIANI (Former Republican Mayor, New York; Presidential Candidate): I want to congratulate each of my opponents on a hard-fought campaign here in Florida. I want to congratulate Senator McCain, who, I believe has been declared the winner. I spoke to Mitt Romney and told him my regard for him as well. These are honorable people. They're accomplished public servants, and they're good men, and we should - and as well as Mike Huckabee.

SIEGEL: That's Rudy Giuliani speaking a short while ago this evening.

We haven't yet heard from the Republican winner in Florida, John McCain. We're expecting that pretty soon.

And in the Democratic primary - the primary was not sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee. No delegates were awarded because Florida jumped the gun on holding a primary so early. But Hillary - and so there was no campaigning actually. But Hillary Clinton won handily over Barack Obama. She had the majority of the votes cast. And in fact, she had more votes cast on her behalf than for - than - anybody did in either of the two primaries.

And while we're waiting for Senator McCain, what better than to hear from our two regular political observers, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Hi.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post; Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): Hey.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Howdy.

SIEGEL: David, Republican primary - is John McCain now a - is he a juggernaut headed straight to the White House in November?

Mr. BROOKS: He's a mini-juggernaut. And it is clearly the most decisive night at the Republican side so far. If Mitt Romney was going to change the momentum, this was the place he had to do it. It's the primary where only Republicans can vote. It's the primary - it's a state where he can outspend, which he did, John McCain, I think eight to one or ten to one. And it's a state where the moderates are split between Giuliani and McCain; that won't happen anymore. And McCain is far ahead in many of the big states on Super Tuesday. So he goes in with quite a lot of momentum, and you wouldn't - you'd be foolish to bet against him at this point.

SIEGEL: E.J., do you agree?

Mr. DIONNE: John McCain is the comeback kid from 2000. I mean, he achieved some things tonight that he had been unable to achieve against George Bush.

What's really striking, looking at the exit polling, is that half of part of the Republican voters said the economy is the most important issue facing the country way ahead of terrorism, Iraq, immigration. If one had known that going in, one have - would have suspected that Romney would have won; that was the card he played. And the fact is McCain ran competitively with him.

The other striking thing is that McCain put together a very similar coalition to the one that he had - one that he had in victories in earlier primaries. He won the anti-Bush vote. Again, that is to say, Republicans who are disaffected. He won the pro-choice vote. Even though John McCain is a very strong opponent of abortion, he won among abortion supporters. And Mitt Romney keeps counting on the illegal immigration issue to trip up John McCain, but again, just one in five Republicans cited illegal immigration. Obviously, McCain is in a strong position.

The question is: Can Romney demonize him as a kind of liberal? He tried to do that in Florida, and it didn't work.

SIEGEL: David, when you were going out and covering the campaigns a year ago, I remember, you came back and said, you go to these events, people are talking about immigration - a lot of people talking about it.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Has it just been eclipsed by other things? Or - why doesn't it motivate more people to vote one way or the other?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, you know, it comes up in every - every town meeting. It comes up in every Democratic town meeting almost. And I think what you have is a small minority who are passionate about the issue. But you got a large majority who really want us to secure the border, but then, once you ask them about the 12 million who are here, they do not want to deport them, and so they're much more - conflicted. And then when you talk to the people - and this was true in South Carolina - the people who did want to deport all 12 million, they still voted for McCain almost as much as they voted for Mike Huckabee in South Carolina. So they're voting on other things.

And let's face it. I think the polling data suggests here that when we ask people, are you voting on this issue or that issue, that doesn't get at the real thing they're voting on. They're voting on character. And that's why they voted for McCain over Romney, not that they agree with him, but because they basically think he's trustworthy, and they're not sure about Mitt Romney.

SIEGEL: You agree with that, E.J.?

Mr. DIONNE: I think character certainly had a lot to do with it. It's also worth noting that Florida is one of those rare states where Latino voters, the Hispanics play a significant role in Republican politics. About one in ten of the voters today, according to the exit polls, were Hispanic. And they voted pretty strongly for John McCain, so that clearly helped him. But I think the consistency of the immigration issue - it's one in five Republicans, not more than that - suggests that it may not have the reach that many thought it did earlier in the year.

SIEGEL: One brief question before I let you guys go for now. And that is this: On the Democratic side, an odd primary in which no delegates were awarded, and yet, the results of who got how many white votes and how many black votes -very similar to what happened in South Carolina except there are far fewer black votes in Florida - is Barack Obama in the box he didn't want to be put in going into South Carolina?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I really don't think so. I don't think this result means much, A, because they didn't campaign there; B, because in every state we've had so far, the Democrats - the Democratic voters outnumber the Republicans in huge margins, and here they have not. That means there's a lot of Democrats who just weren't mobilized this time. And if they had come out, especially African-Americans and younger voters, Obama would have done a lot better.

SIEGEL: E.J., you have the last word here.

Mr. DIONNE: This will mean something if voters in the 22-odd states that vote next week decide - it means something, otherwise, it doesn't mean that much. Obama does better in states he campaigns in, and he didn't have a chance to campaign here. The Clinton people will say this really matters.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to both of you.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

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