McCain’s win positions him as the Republican frontrunner heading into Super Tuesday next week with contests in more than twenty states. At third place, former frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani is widely expected to drop out of the race today and endorse Senator McCain. We speak with Florida radio host and television reporter Jim DeFede and Village Voice senior editor Wayne Barrett, author of two books on Giuliani. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: In Florida, Senator John McCain scored a big win over Mitt Romney in the state’s Republican primary Tuesday. McCain got 36 percent of the vote to Romney’s 31 percent. The win positions McCain as the Republican frontrunner heading into “Super Duper Tuesday” on February 5th with contests in more than twenty states.
Meanwhile, Rudolph Giuliani finished a distant third with 15 percent of the Florida vote, just ahead of Mike Huckabee at 14 percent. Giuliani, who had staked his candidacy on a strong showing in Florida, is widely expected to drop out of the race today and endorse Senator McCain.
McCain’s win gives him all of Florida’s fifty-seven delegates to the national convention, the biggest prize of the campaign to date. McCain and Romney had split the last four of the nominating contests. With McCain winning South Carolina and New Hampshire and Romney carrying Michigan and Nevada, Huckabee won in Iowa. Speaking to supporters in Miami, McCain said he was looking forward to Super Tuesday.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: My friends, in one week, in one week, we will have as close to a national primary as we’ve ever had in this country. I intend to win it and be the nominee of our party. I intend to do that by making it clear what I stand for. I stand for the principles and policies that first attracted me to the Republican Party, when I heard, in whispered conversations and tap codes, about the then-governor of California, who stood by me and my comrades and who was making quite a reputation for standing by his convictions, no matter the changing political winds or thought in popular culture. When I left the Navy and entered public life, I enlisted as a foot soldier in the political revolution he began. And I am as proud today to be a Republican conservative as I was then.
AMY GOODMAN: While most of the attention in Florida was on the Republicans, Democratic voters gave Senator Hillary Clinton a victory in a virtually uncontested race. The Democratic Party had stripped Florida of its delegates 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.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I am thrilled to have had this vote of confidence that you have given me today. And I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure not only are Florida’s Democratic delegates seated, but Florida is in the winning column for the Democrats in 2008.
AMY GOODMAN: For more on the Florida primary, we go to Miami to Jim DeFede host of a news show on radio station WFTL in South Florida, also a commentator and reporter for CBS News in Miami. Jim DeFede, your response to what happened last night? A surprise? What were the main contests between the Republicans?
JIM DeFEDE: Well, it was clearly a decisive win for McCain. I think people who were expecting it to be a lot closer were surprised at the end of the day by the margin. Really what won it for McCain is — I mean, it’s amazing — the Hispanic vote broke heavily for McCain. Exit polling shows he got about 51 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to only 15 percent for Romney. South Florida went two-to-one for McCain over Romney. McCain also cobbled a great coalition of military in the panhandle and moderates in the center part of the state. So it was an impressive win for McCain, who really put together the type of coalition you haven’t seen in Florida in a long time.
AMY GOODMAN: And there were also other issues that were voted on by people in Florida.
JIM DeFEDE: Well, the economy is the number-one issue in Florida. That was proved again with exit polling, but we knew it even going into it. The economy is very bad in Florida, the housing markets hit here particularly hard. And there was an amendment on the state constitution on the ballot to lower property taxes and allow homeowners to take the savings from their current homes with them to new homes if they moved, a measure called "portability." The governor, Governor Charlie Crist, really staked a lot on that campaign, put it on his back and really fought hard for that. That’s one of the things — why you saw a record turnout in Florida for the election. And that passed 64 percent, you know, with 64 percent voting in favor of that property tax amendment. That was driving a lot of people to the polls, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: The other big news of the day was the campaign of Rudolph Giuliani. After suffering lopsided losses in all the early voting states this year, Giuliani had staked his candidacy on a strong showing in Florida. He campaigned more in Florida than anywhere else. He outspent his rivals on TV ads over the last month. After placing a distant third in the race, he was noncommittal about the future of his candidacy. At a rally in Orlando, he thanked his supporters and talked about his campaign in the past tense.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: The responsibility of leadership doesn’t end with a single campaign. If you believe in a cause, it goes on, and you continue to fight for it. And we will. You don’t always win, but you can always try to do it right, and you did. That’s what the American people deserve, a return to honesty and substance in our political discussion. America needs to stay on offense to win the terrorist war on us. It’s not optional. We can’t wish it away. We can’t hope it away. It’s there. It’s a reality. And America must always remember that the best way to achieve peace is through overwhelming strength.
AMY GOODMAN: Top aides to Giuliani have been quoted as saying he intends to drop out of the race as early as today and endorse John McCain.
Wayne Barrett is also with us. He’s senior editor at the Village Voice, where he’s been covering politics for over twenty years, the author of many books, including Rudy!: An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani. His latest book is Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11. Wayne Barrett joins us here in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Wayne. Were you surprised?
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, I wasn’t surprised that he lost in the end. I was surprised by the total collapse. I think it may be the greatest collapse — just in the age of polls, it may be the greatest collapse in presidential primary history. Gary Hart is a competitor, but he had a blonde on his lap. And somehow, Rudy, without the blonde, managed to just drop really from heights the were unprecedented. He was leading the national polls for almost an entire year, and then he winds up — can’t win a single state, usually comes in in single digits — this is the first time he came in in double digits — and wiped out really before any of us would have anticipated, I think, a month or two ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you’ve been one to say that Rudolph Giuliani did not stake his election on Florida, originally.
WAYNE BARRETT: Right. Well, look, he had ten full-time staff people in Iowa. Romney had twelve. He made an effort there. He realized he wasn’t going to win. He pulled out at the end. New Hampshire, he made a full-fledged effort. He spent $3 million on advertising. He had people in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn. He had people in Staten Island. Every single weekend, busloads of them were going up to New Hampshire. So he was doing everything he could do to win in New Hampshire or to place well, and he was just —
AMY GOODMAN: How many times was he there in New Hampshire?
WAYNE BARRETT: He did 124 appearances in New Hampshire.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the media said that he was conceding in New Hampshire, he didn’t want to spend time there.
WAYNE BARRETT: Yes. The national media kind of adopted his line, when it looked like — I mean, he was actually in New Hampshire the day of the primary. He usually tried to leave before the day of the primary, but he was afraid to leave New Hampshire the day early, as he did in other states, because he thought he would lose to Ron Paul, as he did in many other states. He actually beat Ron Paul in New Hampshire by 2,000 votes. But he was in — no question, he made a real effort in New Hampshire, and then he kind of retreated into this stated strategy of “I’m saving it all for Florida.” He didn’t save it all for Florida. He was routed everywhere else, and then he was routed in Florida.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim DeFede, how was he perceived there? How was he perceived in Florida?
JIM DeFEDE: Well, you said before, he spent so much time in Florida, and that actually ended up hurting him, I think, in the end. The more voters got to know Rudy Giuliani and the Republican voters got to know Rudy Giuliani and his positions, the less they liked him. He rode a big wave early on because of name recognition. That was all that really was. But once they got to start talking to him, hearing about him, hearing from him, they didn’t like him. And that’s what ended up costing him at the end of the day. The more he talked, the more they ran away from him.
AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Barrett, the Rudolph Giuliani you know, do you think it was conveyed in the press? And what do you think they missed most? And the significance, if all the predictions are true, that he will throw his support to McCain, who spoke of him extremely fondly last night?
WAYNE BARRETT: Yes, I mean, they had some bitter exchanges during the campaign, remember, over Bernie Kerik, when the indictment of Bernie Kerik —
AMY GOODMAN: Bernie Kerik, the former police commissioner.
WAYNE BARRETT: Former police commissioner. When that came down, John McCain went right after Rudy and held Rudy, I think completely justifiably, fully accountable for trying to make Bernie Kerik the Homeland Security secretary. And then Rudy shot — one of his top surrogates, Randy Mastro, used to be a deputy mayor, shot back at John McCain. There were some testy moments. But by and large, they’ve had a long-term relationship, I certainly expect that endorsement to happen.
But, you know, Rudy Giuliani — let’s at least for once, say something good about the national press. They did its job. I mean, everybody, from the Chicago Tribune to Time magazine to Vanity Fair, to the New York Times, broke stories about Giuliani Partners. It was like a Gary Hart dare, because Rudy refused to say who his clients were. The press went out and did its job. It found one client after another. The Wall Street Journal, everybody chipped in a good story after good story. And I think those stories —- if you look back at Tim Russert’s interview on Meet the Press, I think it was just an extraordinary interview in which he took Giuliani apart. I’ve never seen Giuliani fumble like this in a national press interview. And Tim Russert did one scandal after another, and I think it just chipped away at Giuliani one step at a time. And for once, the national press corps really went out and did some solid investigative work on a candidate. And this is important.
Now, it may seem, in retrospect, like Rudy Giuliani is a footnote to the campaign, but there was a substantial reason to believe that, just like it’s wise for Democrats to nominate a Southerner, it might be wise for Republicans to nominate a Northeasterner with his kind of credentials and that he could have been a formidable candidate in November. He certainly -—
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he could be a vice-presidential candidate?
WAYNE BARRETT: I can’t imagine it, if McCain is the nominee, because they both have these strong national security supposed credentials. I mean, I think you can say legitimately that McCain has some. He spent as many years in a prisoner of war camp as Rudy got deferments in the Vietnam War, I think. You know, so I can’t imagine that that’s much of a match. I think McCain is going to be looking for a Southerner, maybe a Midwesterner.
AMY GOODMAN: A conservative.
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, and I think they’re going to write off the Northeast. But, you know, Rudy could have been a substantial candidate, so the fact that he failed may have significant implications in this election year.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the most significant thing to understand about Rudolph Giuliani for people around the country and the world?
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, you know, he had this interview with the Tampa Tribune, which decided — it’s a conservative paper — decided to endorse McCain. And it got no attention anywhere else, but I read this editorial where they endorsed McCain, and they said when Rudy appeared before them, they asked him, “Well, what are you going to do about al-Qaeda and these loose organizations of terrorists? How can you stop them?” And he said — and this is a direct quote — "I’m going to take out the nation states that support them." Well, now, that’s about four or five wars, you know, so the most important thing is — now, McCain is in competition for that title. But I think Rudy Giuliani was the most reckless guy. He said if Iran pursues its nuclear program, we’re going to set them back five to ten years. It was the war rhetoric of Rudy Giuliani, which is completely consistent with his public personality of many, many years that was the most frightening thing, and the fact that it’s off the stage is very important.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim DeFede, can you explain on the Democratic side exactly why Florida didn’t count, but Hillary Clinton counted it as a big victory?
JIM DeFEDE: Well, Florida moved its primary up to January 29 in defiance of the Democratic National Committee, which said no state can move up earlier than February 5. Florida went ahead and did it anyway, led by the Republican legislators. But it was also some Democrats in the legislature that wanted it moved up, as well, to be more important in the process. So Florida got stripped of all of its delegates.
Hillary needed something to change the conversation. She didn’t want to keep talking about South Carolina. They didn’t want the story to continue to be about Bill Clinton’s role in the campaign. They needed some good news. You know, they just saw the coronation of Kennedy passing the torch on to Obama, so they needed something the grab the attention. So they knew they were going to win in Florida. The polls had Hillary well ahead, because neither candidate was campaigning here. And so, Hillary came down late last night around 8:45, flew into South Florida after the polls closed, and held a big rally for herself, a big welcoming party, and she got exactly what she wanted: all the networks cut in to sort of show her on stage with flag-waving and then sign-waving and all the rest of it. So she got to sort of change the thing. Then again, there’s always the most overused word in both politics and sports: "momentum." She hopes that this will translate into momentum heading into Super Tuesday.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Wayne Barrett, as we head into Super Tuesday, New York — can you talk about the significance here of, both for the Democrats and Republicans, where you see things lining up?
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, let me just add to what Jim said about Florida. I think — I just found it amazing to watch the national coverage of this last night. More people voted in Florida in the Democratic primary than voted in all the primaries that preceded this. And yet everybody’s willing to totally dismiss the outcome as if it’s totally unimportant. I mean, two million people, nearly two million people voted. We always wondered what the race between Hillary and Rudy would be like. She beat him by 600,000 votes, and she never entered the state during the election campaign and campaigned. So I think the outcome in Florida is immensely important in terms of the national race. We should pay attention to a couple of million voters. It’s not completely unimportant. That’s why we have a democracy.
But in terms of New York, I certainly think McCain is going to roll through New York. I think he’s going to roll through February 5th, and I certainly think he’s going to be the nominee. New York, I think, because it’s — in the Democratic primary, it’s congressional district by congressional district, and I fully expect that Barack Obama is going to carry some New York congressional districts and come out of here with some delegates. I certainly expect that most of the polls indicate that Hillary will carry the state. But this is by congressional district by congressional district, and so it’s a pretty — he will come out of here with some delegates. Now, there are about 130 at-large delegates, superdelegates, in the state of New York that are going to be selected by the party. Those are all going to turn out to be — virtually uniformly are going to turn out to be Hillary delegates, because the party establishment is going to select them. So there’s only 151 delegates up for battle, and I fully expect that Obama will do reasonably well among those 151 delegates.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Wayne Barrett, what are you going to do with your life? You finished two books on Rudolph Giuliani. What happens next?
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, I couldn’t tell you how happy I am that these fingers may never type that name again.
AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Barrett, senior editor at the Village Voice, latest book Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11. Jim DeFede with us from Florida, host of the news show on radio station WFTL in South Florida.