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Face-Off in Florida ...

As I noted this morning, tonight's election results might just be so close that a recount is needed.  Let's hope that's not the case, but the way this race has gone, would it surprise anyone?

Keep in mind, also, that Florida has two time zones.  Don't expect the networks to start calling the race until the polls in the panhandle close an hour later.

Tonight is hugely important because it's the last chance the candidates will have to do retail face-to-face campaigning with the voters, in a single state, before running in more than 20 states simultaneously on Tsunami Tuesday.  The winner tonight will have tremendous momentum going into that multi-state contest.

As such, it is likely -- though not a lock -- that tonight's winner will also be the GOP nominee.  The stakes are high for all the candidates, but they each need to win for slightly different reasons:

... Having staked his entire campaign on the premise that he would win Florida, Rudy Giuliani desperately needs to win tonight.   Unless he finishes in first place, he will probably get out.  And if McCain wins tonight, Giuliani will definitely have to drop out (or face a humiliating defeat in his home state of New York next week). 

... So far, John McCain has never won a closed Republican primary.  But he does very well with Senior Citizens (which are plentiful in Florida), so it's pretty much a wash.  McCain currently leads in many of the delegate-rich Tsunami Tuesday states.  Losing tonight would hurt his momentum in those states; no doubt about it (though he still would win some of them).  But more importantly, McCain desperately needs a victory tonight in order to be able to raise enough money to compete with Mitt Romney a week from today.  Losing means he doesn't have enough money to compete next week, and greatly diminishes his chances ...

Mitt Romney has the funds to compete next week, regardless of whether he wins or loses.  And while Mitt Romney does not have to win tonight to remain viable -- he cannot allow John McCain to win tonight, either.  If McCain wins tonight, it will essentially ratify his South Carolina and New Hampshire victories, and make him the clear frontrunner for the nomination.  Should McCain win, we will immediately begin to see the Republican establishment begin to move toward embracing him.  This would mean more endorsements and -- more importantly -- a lot more money.

... It's going to be a wild night.  Pull up a chair, crack open a cold Diet Coke (or drink of your choice), turn on the TV, and keep the browser right here at!

Update:  It occurs to me I didn't mention Mike Huckabee.  Of course, this is because he won't win tonight.  Still, he could be a factor; it's possible he could take enough votes away from Romney in the panhandle to cost Romney the race (if it's close).  Additionally, Huckabee stands to do well on Tsunami Tuesday in some of the southern states. 

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