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GOP race in Florida is Romney vs. McCain

The two candidates are running neck and neck before the Republican primary Tuesday.

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"It's a base of support for him, but it's certainly not a unified solid base," says Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon who is based in Jacksonville, Fla. "Some of those retired military are very conservative, and they don't like McCain's stand on immigration and his opposition to some tax cuts."

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Here on Florida's west coast, full of transplants from the Midwest, the even-tempered persona of Romney, originally from Michigan, plays well. "He's a problem-solver," says Lorraine Soderquist of Bonita Springs, attending a luncheon Saturday headlined by Romney's wife, Ann. "We need someone from the outside to shake things up."

But on that same day, just a few miles away, the fiery McCain was drawing an overflow crowd at a local tourist attraction. Hundreds stood outside, hoping just for a glimpse of the senator while many others gave up and left when they saw the crowd. McCain took a veiled swipe at Romney, saying, "I will lead, not manage." And he answered questions from the crowd, including from an antiwar heckler who seemed taken aback when given the microphone.

At a Romney event Sunday afternoon in a Latino suburb of Miami, the governor did not fill the venue or take questions. But judging a candidate's strength by crowd size is risky business. On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Barack Obama's crowds dwarfed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's – but she won the Democratic primary anyway.

In Florida, the well-financed Romney has been on the air with ads for months, while the resurgent McCain campaign has not had the resources for that. But given that many voters have only tuned in recently, and are deciding late, McCain may well have the edge on momentum. Over the weekend, he secured more newspaper endorsements than Romney, as well as the endorsements of the state's top two Republicans, Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez.

On the Democratic side, Florida's primary is just a beauty contest; no delegates will be awarded, owing to the national party's decision to punish the state for scheduling the primary early.

But Florida Democrats voted early in droves, and the result may give clues as to how Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton are doing following Obama's overwhelming victory in Saturday's South Carolina primary. Clinton is a strong favorite here, where she holds a natural edge in a state with a large population of older women. If she does anything less than extremely well, that may portend trouble for her on Feb. 5.

Clinton also now faces another deficit on the endorsement front: On Monday, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts announced his support for Obama, following the weekend endorsement of Obama by the only surviving child of President John Kennedy, Caroline.

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