The latest Florida poll has McCain with a narrow lead and, in a sure sign the race is close, my in-box is fillling up with nastygrams from the Romney camp focusing on McCain’s un-Republican leanings. The most telling part of today’s poll is Rudy’s number: 15 perecent. As that number decreases (a function of the bandwagon effect and perhaps Mel Martinez’ endorsement of McCain) expect McCain’s to rise.
It is worth exploring how critical Florida is and for whom it is a “must win.” Despite pledges he would continue on, it is hard to see how Rudy, whose numbers are already dropping in February 5 states, would remain viable after a Florida loss. For Romney, a loss here would leave Michigan as his only win in a contested state and deprive him of a needed boost going into February 5, where he must take on both McCain and Huckabee, who remains a threat in Red states. Things would look grim. But, just as he soldiered on after New Hampshire and Iowa, he would have no reason to give up. (Romney said just that today.) McCain, who now is building leads in California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, could survive a close loss in Florida. However, the last thing he wants is to do is revive criticisms that he cannot win in a closed primary and set up a coast-to-coast battle with an opponent who has seemingly unlimited funds. So, on balance, Rudy is the only one who must win, Romney needs it very badly and McCain would sure prefer not to lose.