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Richelieu: Battleground Florida

11:30 AM, Jan 16, 2008 • By RICHELIEU
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South Carolina will get all the attention for the next few days, but the real showstopper in the GOP race will be Florida on the 29th. SC will narrow the field; pity the poor candidate who finishes third there and winds up in the political electric chair. If McCain drops to third, he'll be labeled president of New Hampshire, but little else. If Romney finishes third, his impressive Michigan win will be tossed off as a home-state fluke and he'll be labeled a northeasterner who cannot sell in the South. If Huckabee finishes third in a state tailor made for him, any chance he has of actually winning the nomination will over.

The Florida race will be about the top two finishers in SC racing to Tampa Bay to finish the fight, with the wounded third place finisher limping behind them. Like second tier super-heroes, each candidate has a special power that could be helpful in Florida but is not enough on its own to guarantee success. Romney has money; he can afford Florida's vital but expensive television markets. Huckabee has communication skills and a nature appeal to Florida's many social values voters. McCain has veterans, a bump in the latest polling and the close friendship of Florida governor Charlie Crist. Then there is Rudy Giuliani, lying in wait in Florida where he has attempted to a build a fortress in a state he has called must-win for his campaign. Rudy has been running heavy television across Florida and has a base of strong support in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area, but the latest Florida polls show him in a four-way tie with the others.

The Republican race is remarkably open here on day 14. Now South Carolina will narrow things - and Florida may well finish them.