There you go, Mitt Romney and the Democrats, I just gave you a free, catchy campaign slogan to use against John McCain - except it looks as if this particular old man will have the last cackle.
John McCain won the Florida primary tonight, and with it, the Republican nomination for president. Yes, you read that right: It's over. As predicted here a month ago, McCain will be the GOP nominee.
Now, I know Mitt Romney has deeper pockets than Shaquille O'Neal in overalls, but money can't buy you love from voters who don't like you. And not enough of them do to vault Romney past the surging McCain. McCain's win in Florida (final numbers: McCain 36%, Romney 31%, Giuliani 15%, Huckabee 14% and Ron Paul 3%) gives him a narrow lead in delegates that will expand next Tuesday, when he will win the majority of the 21 Republican Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses.
McCain has significant leads in a handful of those states already, and with Rudy Giuliani dropping out (it's about time - more on that in a moment), he will solidify the moderate vote...while Mike Huckabee hangs around to drain conservatives away from Romney. Huckabee may well win two or three states himself next Tuesday, and will hurt Romney enough in a few others to give McCain more wins than he could earn on his own. And since some of those Republican states are winner-take-all, McCain will start piling up enough delegates to make his nomination inevitable.
Now Romney's not going to go away quietly, and he can drop another $20 million of his own money into his TV account and run media blitzes from now till Easter. But he's done that already in New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and Florida - and McCain still won those states. McCain is winning without TV spots - he's surged into the lead here in California despite not running a single commercial, even on the radio. So Romney will get nasty, and negative, and empty a few Bain Capital accounts' worth of greenbacks - and it says here McCain still prevails, wrapping it up by the end of February.
As for Rudy - I remain stunned by the reaction of all the pundits and so-called experts who didn't see his collapse coming. "No one could have predicted this!" screamed Ari Fleischer on CNN tonight. "This will be analyzed for years!" I think Ari needs to read Sovern Nation more often. Or once, even. There's all this misguided hand-wringing over Giuliani's flawed campaign strategy. It wasn't his strategy - it's Rudy himself who was fatally flawed. I have been annoying colleagues for months with my dismissal of America's Mayor as a serious candidate for president. You can go back in the archives and read why, if you really want to, but suffice to say that an unlikable, thrice-married, adulterous, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, bald, bespectacled, Nixonian, ethnic New Yorker with a lisp is not a natural fit for most of the Republican Party. The surprise isn't that Rudy's gone before Super Tuesday - it's that he lasted this long. Everyone seems to conveniently overlook that Rudy did compete in New Hampshire - he did not skip the early states. He tried, and tried hard - he spent two million dollars in the Granite State. He was there early and often last year. But New Hampshire voters didn't warm to him at all (has anyone ever found Rudy "warm"?), and he rightly recognized that he had little hope of breaking through either there or in Iowa, so he really had no choice but to go all-out in Florida and bank on a miracle that would catapult him into Super Tuesday states where he'd have a better shot, such as California and New York. No one is foolish enough to choose not to compete in the first four states - there's simply no reason to - unless the nature of the candidate himself leaves no other option.
So, McCain will cruise to victory soon, and the Republican Party establishment will begrudgingly rally around the erstwhile maverick. Conservatives will gnash their teeth and pull out their hair - and either put up a third-party right-winger or hold their noses and vote for McCain in November...
...when McCain will face Hillary Clinton, as also predicted in this space a month ago. There's momentum building for Barack Obama right now, and I meet a lot of undecided Democrats who are moving his way - and even some former Hillary supporters who are turning away from her and embracing Obama. Teddy, Caroline and Patrick Kennedy's moving, powerful endorsements of Obama really touched a lot of liberal Democrats - hear it here. We spoke with Hillary Clinton on the phone about it today - you can hear her reaction by clicking here.
But a state-by-state analysis of the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses shows Clinton likely to win the lion's share. The Democrats don't have winner-take-all votes anymore, and many of these states will be close, preventing Clinton from putting Obama away the way McCain will Romney. So Obama will win plenty of delegates, keeping the nomination in play for at least another month, guaranteeing a long, occasionally nasty Democratic race that will make the consolidating Republicans quite happy. But Hillary will get it in the end - and then she'll have to make the case that this is indeed a country that's ready for a woman, not another old man, to lead.