Analysis: GOP Race Now A Two-Man Brawl

Republican presidential hopefuls Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008.
This analysis was written by's Dick Meyer and Vaughn Ververs.

After John McCain's squeaker win in Florida, the Republican campaign, with apologies to Thomas Hobbes, looks to be rich, nasty, brutish and long. The campaign is now one on one combat between McCain and Mitt Romney and they both have staying power.

McCain's margin of victory may have been slender and the road ahead is certainly long, but a few things became clear in the Florida sun. The campaign of Rudy Giuliani is over. Unless Mike Huckabee is a political Lazarus, he won't be rising up either.

And the fighters left standing, McCain and Romney, do not much like each other. The bitterness that emerged in New Hampshire and Michigan became full-blown animosity in Florida, with charges of outright dishonesty on both sides. Romney accused McCain of being dishonest about his position on a timetable for troop withdrawal on Iraq while Romney has belittled McCain over his economic preparedness and "liberal" friendships.

So the Republican Party is facing the kind of unpredictable, nasty and long primary fight it has avoided for generations.

The political intangibles would seem to strongly favor McCain going in to Tsunami Tuesday. But Romney has something in his arsenal McCain cannot match: money.

In Florida alone, Romney was able to air 4,475 ads compared to 470 for McCain. Romney's air power is likely to dwarf McCain's prior to Super Tuesday, an advantage the better-known McCain will try to blunt with free media.

But McCain is the first Republican to put together back to back wins in big races, South Carolina and now Florida. He is leading Romney in all the from Giuliani and Fred Thompson's is likely to follow shortly.

The results in Florida reveal other McCain strengths.

Romney's advantage has been on economic matters and Romeney's camp thought last week's market collapse would benefit him. But McCain won voters (45% of the total) who said economy was their top issue by 38 percent to 32 percent. Though McCain is notoriously popular with independent voters, Florida was closed to independents and McCain still won.

McCain did extremely well with Hispanic voters in Florida. And though McCain is at odds with the party's core on immigration, McCain did well in a state where immigration issues are constantly in the news.

McCain is supposed to be the guy the GOP establishment doesn't like. But in Florida, McCain snared helpful endorsements from Governor Charlie Crist and Senator Mel Martinez.

"It shows one thing. I'm the conservative leader who can unite the party," McCain said about his Florida win.

McCain will also argue he is the strongest Republican in ageneral election. Forty-five percent of Florida's primary voters thought McCain had the best chance of winning in November.

Conventional wisdom, which has been rather unwise so far this year, says McCain benefits from Giuliani's exit and not just because of the endrosement. The thinking is that both men appeal to voters highly concerned with security issues, and McCain will now have the clear edge with those voters.

Similarly, the fact that Huckabee is still in the race could hurt Romney since they still compete for votes from social conservatives.

Still, it doesn't seem likely that McCain will be able to land a knockout punch on Super Tuesday. Romney has what it takes to stay in the ring - deep pockets. And they are his own deep pockets to dip into.