Humiliated Giuliani set to endorse McCain

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Rudy Giuliani, whose dreams of becoming the American President were abruptly beached in the Republican primary in Florida last night, will today signal his intention to bow out of the nomination contest and transfer his support to the winner, Senator John McCain.

The endorsement by the former Mayor of New York will be just one more boost for Mr McCain who already can emphatically claim to have emerged at last as the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination. After a bitter campaign over the last several days, he defeated Mitt Romney by a respectable 5-point margin.

With most of the the state's precincts reporting, Mr McCain pushed aside Mr Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, by 35 per cent to 31 per cent. He thus also bagged all 57 delegates that were up for grabs in the Sunshine State and can now expect a surge money into his campaign coffers.

His victory will thus provide a huge lift ahead of next week’s Super-Tuesday primaries in more than 20 states. It will surely also spur speculation of one more impossible endorsement in the days ahead – from California Governor, Arnold Schwarzengger.

Gathered in a Miami airport hotel, Mr McCain's supporters roared in delight as news of their candidate's narrow but vitally important victory was broadcast on giant television screens. Even until the last moments, most polling organisations had seen the state as too close to call.

"Our victory may not have reached landslide proportions but it was sweet nonetheless," Mr McCain told the cheering crowd, before paying tribute to all of his rivals – Mr Giuliani especially generously as the "exceptional American hero that he truly is".

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, swooped into south Florida and absorbed the cheers of supporters in Davie, north of Miami, after easily defeating Barack Obama – an impressive turnaround for her but for the fact that squabbles between Florida and the national Democratic Party meant the Democrat primary had been reduced to little more than a beauty contest with no one entitled to nominating delegates.

Though visibily deflated last night, Mr Romney will surely similarly argue that his respectable second place will give him equal wind to move forward in the campaign; his personal wealth also gives him deeper pockets to keep on fighting.

Mr Giuliani gambled his entire presidential quest on Florida. While he said earlier he would participate in a televised debate between Republicans at the Reagan Library in Los Angeles today, he also noted that whoever won Florida would win the nomination. The implication: he has little choice now but to drop out.

Left in fourth place, meanwhile, was Mike Huckabee, the Iowa winner and a former governor of Arkansas. He may have the least cash to continue than anyone, but could decide to remain in play because of support awaiting him in southern states.

Early exit-poll data last night suggested greater numbers of Florida Republicans identifying themselves as conservative than four years ago – a factor that could have ended up helping Mr Romney who, since running for President, has shed some of his more liberal social stances and stepped to the right. Yesterday, 6 in 10 Republican voters called themselves "conservative", up from one in five in 2004.

There was a record turnout for both parties here last night. Even as voters were cramming polling stations up and down Florida in what had become a frantic show-down between Messrs McCain and Romney, both candidates kept after votes in last-minute campaign appearances – and after each other.

Democrats also cast votes in large number even though they may count for nothing because delegates from Florida will theoretically not be seated at the party convention in the summer. Mrs Clinton, however, made the most of her phantom win.

With 33 per cent of precincts reporting, she had 48.77 per cent of the vote over 29.78 per cent for Mr Obama. Mr Edwards was taking nearly 15 per cent. Mrs Clinton, 60, thanked supporters at a rally in Davie, Florida, after the polls closed, in keeping with her pledge not to campaign in the state. She said there had been a record turn-out because Floridians wanted their voices heard.

"I am thrilled to have had this vote of confidence that you have given me today," she said. "And I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure not only that Florida Democratic candidates are counted, but Florida is in the winning column for the Democrats in 2008."