The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox all lead with Sen. John McCain's decisive victory over Mitt Romney in the Florida primary. Everyone says the win clearly makes the Arizona senator his party's front-runner for the presidential nomination. After a hard-fought battle that became increasingly acrimonious in its final days, McCain received 36 percent of the vote to Romney's 31 percent. Yesterday's election also marked the downfall of Rudy Giuliani. Once seen as the party's front-runner, Giuliani's campaign quickly collapsed this month and "America's Mayor" managed only a distant third in the state that he was counting on to propel him to the nomination. Giuliani spoke of his campaign in the past tense last night and is widely expected to drop out today and throw his support to McCain.
USA Todaygoes big with McCain's victory but devotes the traditional lead spot to word that a report scheduled for release today will reveal that allied countries have paid only 16 percent of what they pledged in Iraqi reconstruction funds. While the United States has spent $29 billion in the effort, other countries have spent only about $2.5 billion of the more than $15.8 billion they promised in 2003. Iraq's "oil-rich neighbors" are particularly guilty of failing to follow through with their pledges.
McCain's win is seen as particularly significant because he couldn't count on the independent voters in yesterday's contest, who were an integral part of his earlier victories. In the days before the election, Romney had worked hard to portray McCain as a product of Washington who is ill-equipped to deal with the country's economic issues. But, in the end, the almost 50 percent of voters who ranked the economy as their top concern still largely favored McCain. For his part, Romney had an advantage among those who described themselves as very conservative as well as with voters who are most concerned about illegal immigration and favor deportation.
Still, there are several challenges ahead for the senator, as the LAT points out that it remains to be seen whether McCain can build a strong Republican coalition. Regardless of his continuing fights with the GOP establishment, it's clear that at least voters see him as someone who says what he believes and as the Republican contender with the best chance of beating a Democrat. The Post's Dan Balz notes inside that McCain's victory will "make him difficult to stop" and he could have the nomination wrapped up after next week's 21-state Super Tuesday.
Mike Huckabee came in fourth place yesterday but no one expects him to drop out before Super Tuesday. The Post says that his continued presence in the race could help McCain because Huckabee will probably manage to receive some conservative support that would otherwise go to Romney.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Clinton easily beat Sen. Barack Obama, but the victory is seen as meaningless beyond the symbolic value since Florida was stripped of all its delegates by the party as a punishment for moving its primary earlier in the year. None of the candidates campaigned in the state, but Clinton went to Florida yesterday and claimed it as a big win, which the Obama camp eagerly refuted. But it's clear that her campaign's goal was to have a victory under its belt before Super Tuesday, predicting that voters would pay "little attention to the confusion over delegates," says the Post. The WP is the only paper that fronts a picture of Clinton's victory rally, although it is right above a particularly snarky column by Dana Milbank, who calls it "a political stunt worthy of the late Evel Knievel."
In examining Rudy Giuliani's loss, the NYT says in a separate front-page piece that although his downfall is largely attributable to mistakes in his campaign, there's maybe a simpler explanation: "The more that Republican voters saw of him, the less they wanted to vote for him." As many predicted, it seems his early numbers were largely based on name recognition, and, as Slate's John Dickerson points out, "The more he campaigned, the more he went down in the polls."
The NYT fronts a look at how more outside groups are getting involved in helping Obama win the nomination, even as he consistently denounces the role that special-interest groups play in the political process. Obama has no control over these groups, and his campaign has asked them to stop their efforts. But now the senator from Illinois is in an interesting position where he's benefitting from their money while also taking the high ground and criticizing his opponents for receiving just this type of help.
The WP fronts, and the rest of the papers mention, the continuing chaos in Kenya, where an opposition lawmaker was killed by gunmen outside his home yesterday morning. The killing had all the signs of a political assassination, and immediately sparked more ethnic clashes in a country where more than 800 people have been killed and 250,000 displaced since the election last month. The LAT notes that many are losing faith in the country's politicians, who are seen as more concerned with their own power instead of working together to end the violence.
The NYT takes a look at how Monday's State of the Union served as another example of how President Bush seems to be preparing the public for the possibility that no more troops will be withdrawn from Iraq beyond those that are already scheduled to leave. There's even a possibility that the number of troops in Iraq will actually be greater than before the "surge" if the approximately 7,000 to 8,000 support troops don't leave with the five combat brigades scheduled to withdraw by the summer. Meanwhile, the WP notes that the U.S. military is planning to increase the number of neighborhood outposts in Baghdad by more than 30 percent.
The WSJ goes inside with a look at how this presidential race has repeatedly embarrassed pollsters this year. Several factors are making the contests particularly difficult to handicap, including the huge number of people who are turning out and the fast pace of the campaign that is causing many to change their minds at the last minute. Things will likely get better once the nominees are decided. But, for now, Peter Hart has a piece of advice for fellow pollsters trying to predict the outcome of the Super Tuesday contests: "Take two aspirins and wake up Wednesday morning."