McCain Wins Florida, Giuliani Expected to Withdraw
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up: our monthly visit with the Magazine Mavens, our roundtable of magazine editors. They've caught the politics bug. Plus, we brought you back a souvenir from South Carolina, the music of a local great, jazz master Skipp Pearson. That's just ahead.
But first, the much anticipated Florida primary was held yesterday, and Senator John McCain of Arizona scored a win over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. McCain took 36 percent of the vote and all 57 delegates to Romney's 31 percent. It was not a good day for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who finished a distant third with only 15 percent of the vote, and is now expected to drop out of the race. Giuliani had largely bypassed the early primary states in hopes that Florida would propel him into contention for the GOP nomination.
Because the Democratic Party penalized Florida, took away all its delegates for moving its primary up in the cycle, Florida was not a focus for the Democrats. But those Democrats who did vote favored Senator Hillary Clinton, who made campaign appearances in the state, while Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards did not. And now it's on to Super Tuesday, next Tuesday, when 24 states will hold some kind of nominating caucus, primary or convention.
To talk a bit about Florida and the road ahead, we have with us Congressman Xavier Becerra of California. He's a Democrat and a member of the House leadership. He's here with me in the studio.
We're also joined by Michael Steele. He's former lieutenant governor of Maryland and chairman of GOPAC, which supports Republican candidates for state and local office. And he joins us by phone from his office.
Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you so much.
Representative XAVIER BECERRA (Democrat, California; House Assistant to the Majority Leader): Great to be with you, Michel.
Mr. MICHAEL STEELE (Chairman, GOPAC; Former Lieutenant Governor, Maryland): Good to be with you, Michel. I hope you're doing well.
MARTIN: Mr. Steele, let's start - before we get to Senator McCain, the winner of the primary, I have to ask about Mayor Giuliani. And I confess I've never understood the rationale for his candidacy - three times married, former mayor of a city who never ran a race statewide, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, perceived as sympathetic to illegal immigrants. I never understood how he was going to get through a Republican primary. And yet, in the early stages, he was a rock star. I hate to use that cliche.
Mr. STEELE: Right, right.
MARTIN: So what's the issue here?
Mr. STEELE: Well…
MARTIN: Was it wrong tactics, wrong message?
Mr. STEELE: Well, first off, Michel, you assume that politics is a rational sport. I mean, there's nothing rational about anything that we do. The congressman and I can attest to that, I'm sure. We look at candidates and others in our parties who run for office and you scratch your head and go, do you really understand the base or the district you're in? But Rudy, you know, defied convention. And he was as much trying to make a point about the transcendence of the Republican Party in a post-Reagan era, which sounds like a course someone should take, but it's very true what the party's going through. And also try to, you know, dispel some myths about the electability of someone who is not as conservative as fill in the blank.
Unfortunately, I think his campaign faltered less on the fact that, you know, the list of things you just went through and more on the fact that, strategically, he made a mistake, and that was instead of blowing a kiss to Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada and Michigan, he kissed them off. And as a consequence, his profile within the party and nationally began to diminish as others filled the void. Politics hates a void. Rudy created one, and it was filled by, first, Huckabee, and now John McCain.
And, of course, with Romney and Fred Thompson kind of floating around out there, there was enough to keep the voters busy looking at others instead of Rudy. And so when focus turned to Florida, people were like, oh, he's still in the race? And as a consequence, he gets 15 percent.
MARTIN: Okay. Congressman Becerra, I have to point out, I think you have recently, very recently, endorsed Senator Barack Obama. So I think that's important to disclose. But this win for Senator Clinton, there are no delegates at stake, but is there any, say, I don't know, public relations benefit to Senator Clinton's win there in Florida?
Rep. BECERRA: I think we're seeing just the fact that Democrats are excited about the - all the people coming out, the record numbers that are coming out in every state. So it's a win for Democrats more than anything else.
MARTIN: But is there any negative attached to it? For example, is there any party anger directed at Senator Clinton because she chose to campaign in the state when the intention was to ask people not to do that?
Rep. BECERRA: I don't think so. All the candidates agreed in advance that they would not compete for delegates. The state knew what would happen, that it would not be able to seat its delegates. And so, rather than disenfranchise the Florida voters in the Democratic primary, they got out there and they voted and they were enthusiastic. We think that they're going to go out there and support a Democrat when it comes time to make a real election in November happen.
MARTIN: Okay. Lieutenant Governor Steele, with the win in Florida, how much stronger is Senator McCain today than yesterday?
Mr. STEELE: Oh, he's very strong. In fact, the senator has been building momentum from - since, I guess, probably early fall. You know, this guy is - I call him the Lazarus of American politics in this cycle. I mean, he was left at the side of the road for dead. Even the good Samaritan story wouldn't apply to him. There was no one there to help him. And he pulled himself up, picked himself up, got back on the trail.
He is now poised to become the nominee of the party, which is going to be a real interesting test internally, you know, for Republicans. And I think you'll see within both parties this tension emerge as they get closer and closer to the conventions. And how that gets played out is going to be very, very interesting. I mean, I was listening to Bob Beckel, a noted Democratic strategist, who said the endorsement this week of Barack Obama by Kennedy was like, you know, taking a meat cleaver and slicing the Democrat Party in half.
And now Democrats are going to have to choose, which side are you on? Well, the Republicans are going to be faced with that same reality starting this week between McCain and Romney as a result of what happened in Florida last night.
MARTIN: One of the reasons that Senator McCain's candidacy faltered early on, it is believed, is that his moderate stance on immigration. He was a strong proponent of immigration reform.
Mr. STEELE: Right.
MARTIN: And this was not a popular position with the so-called Republican base. And I'm just wondering whether you feel - whether both of you gentlemen feel that that's a harbinger of something, the fact that he's prevailed despite the fact that he has a position that the party base generally doesn't agree with. Does that mean that that issue moves - does it mean that perhaps we've misread the intensity of feeling on that issue, Congressman?
Rep. BECERRA: I certainly do. I think the American people will take us on a path not far from where Senator McCain was, but then he flip-flopped and said he wasn't. And I think Senator McCain will have to do some explaining to the public to try to let the public know what he would do as president. I think for Democrats, it's far easier. We've been where the American public has wanted us to be, and that is to fix this broken system and be real about doing it.
MARTIN: What do you think, Mr. Steele?
Mr. STEELE: But that's not at all, sir - but that has not happened. And the reality of it is Americans - I'll tell you exactly where Americans are. It is not a matter of Republican or Democrat. They want the borders fixed. They want controls at the border. They want to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the country. And that's going to be the reality for the candidates going forward. It's not about the 12 million people who are here in the country right now.
So whether you're John McCain or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, you're going to have to be able to speak to that security issue, I think, first, and then the rest of it will take care of itself.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm speaking with Michael Steele, chairman of GOPAC, and Congressman Xavier Becerra of California. He's a member of the House leadership.
I want to go back to the - I want to go to the issue of Latino voters. Congressman, pundits have been saying that the Clinton campaign is relying on these voters as a firewall, especially looking ahead to Super Tuesday. Do you think there's any merit to that? I mean, are Latino voters - do they - are there enough commonality to be considered a voting bloc?
Rep. BECERRA: We are quickly becoming a strong voting bloc for Democrats. And I think it's a result of the attitudes of many Republican leaders on the issues of immigration. But generally speaking, I think Latino voters, like American voters, are looking for some change. They want to see us head in a different direction from where we've been. And I believe at this stage, Democrats seem to be articulating far better than Republicans where Latinos would like to take this country.
And I think they're - the Latino vote is still out there for grabs. But the Republican Party has done a great deal to make them seem very unwelcome within the Republican Party.
MARTIN: Mr. Steele?
Mr. STEELE: Well, you know, I agree with part of that. I mean, I think the party has grossly mishandled the discussions, the debate on immigration. I've spent a lot of time in Florida. I've spent a lot of time in Arizona and a number of the border states talking with the Latino population.
And it is, I think, again, reflective of a lot of what the congressman just said. But there's also this sense of, look, you know, we paid the dues. We stood in the line. We did it the right way. And we're not all that, you know, gung ho for just opening up the borders and allowing anyone to cut in line and move ahead of those who've been standing in line for some time. So...
MARTIN: But if Senator McCain is the nominee, does that take the issue off -does it take the issue of immigration off the table?
Mr. STEELE: No, it doesn't. I don't think so. I think it stays squarely on the table. And I think what it does do is it may move us closer to a compromise in terms of what will be the long-term immigration strategy for the U.S. without a lot of the hyper hyperbole and the noise that we've heard over the past two years, where - and then there I would agree with the congressman that Republicans have allowed this debate through their hysterical responses to denigrate into an anti-immigrant debate. And that's not what this is about at all - at all.
And so, the reality of it is I think McCain kind of brings some resolution to that noise and helps us move forward in some other discussions. And so, we'll see. We'll see how it turns out.
MARTIN: Finally, to both of you. Do you think that Super Tuesday will identify a clear front-runner for both parties? Congressman?
Rep. BECERRA: You'd have to say from watching where we are today that probably not. I have a feeling that we're going to see a campaign going all the way to the conventions, perhaps for both parties. Certainly, Senator Obama is gaining momentum everywhere he goes. He's surpassed the vote predictions in each of the states where we'd had an election. I think he's going to do the same thing on Super Tuesday.
So, if you take a look at where we're heading, this is going to be a tight race, I think. We may not know who our nominee is in the Democratic side and perhaps the Republican side until after the convention has finished its last night.
MARTIN: Spoken like an Obama supporter. I just have to point it out.
Mr. STEELE: Right. Exactly.
MARTIN: Mr. Steele, what about you? Do you think a clear front-runner comes after next Tuesday for the Republicans?
Mr. STEELE: I don't know. I agree with the congressman. I've been saying since last summer that we're looking at open conventions next year by virtue of the fact that the parties have stuck their thumb in their eye by denying delegates and cutting them in half and all this other stuff which has got to get addressed at the convention. And Florida is going to be a mess for the Democrats next year with 210 delegates sitting there and with no place to go.
And, so, yeah. I think you're going to see John Edwards sitting there collecting delegates and saying, okay, anybody who wants to be president got to come through me. And that's going to be an interesting brokering discussion. And I think on the Republican side, Romney is not going anywhere. He's going to keep his dollars in the game, and therefore collect his delegates and look to battle it out. The same with McCain on the convention floor.
Then of course you've got folks like Huckabee who are almost in a John Edwards position where they could stay in for as long as they can, collect as many delegates as they can, and then sit there and, go, hey. I got 150, 300 delegates over here. Who wants them?
And so, I think it's going to be fun to watch. It's going to be a history lesson for Americans, and it's going to be an opportunity to really see how we make the sausage of the presidency in this country.
MARTIN: Well, that's a good excuse for me to invite you both back to come and see us. Right?
Mr. STEELE: Absolutely.
MARTIN: Okay. Former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele is chairman of GOPAC. He joined us on the phone. We were also joined by Congressman Xavier Becerra. He's a member of the Democratic House Leadership, and he was kind enough to join me here in the studio in Washington.
Gentlemen, thank you both so much for speaking with us.
Mr. STEELE: Thank you.
Rep. BECERRA: Michel, thank you. Congratulations on your success.
MARTIN: This just in. We are following reports that Democrat John Edwards is considering exiting the presidential race. We'll bring you that information as soon as it's available.
And just ahead, our Magazine Mavens. They talk politics, too. That's next.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.