Cain won a breakthrough triumph in the Florida primary last night, seizing the upper hand in the Republican presidential race ahead of next week’s coast-to-coast contests and lining up a quick endorsement from soon-to-be dropout Rudy Giuliani.
“It shows one thing: I’m the conservative leader who can unite the party,” McCain told The Associated Press after easing past former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for his first-ever triumph in a primary open only to Republicans.
“We have a ways to go, but we’re getting close” to the nomination, he said later in an appearance before cheering supporters.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was the Democratic winner in a primary held in defiance of national rules that drew no campaigning and awarded no delegates.
The victory was worth 57 Republican National Convention delegates for McCain, a winner-take-all haul that catapulted him ahead of Romney in that category.
Romney, who has spent millions of dollars of his personal fortune to run for the White House, vowed to stay in the race.
“At a time like this, America needs a president in the White House who has actually had a job in the real economy,” the former businessman told supporters in St. Petersburg.
Giuliani, the former New York mayor, ran third.
It was his best showing of the campaign, but not nearly good enough for the one-time front-runner who decided to make his last stand in a state that is home to tens of thousands of transplanted New Yorkers.
Several officials familiar with events said Giuliani intended to endorse McCain on Wednesday in California.
In remarks to supporters in Orlando, Giuliani referred to his candidacy repeatedly in the past tense – as though it were over.
“We’ll stay involved and together we’ll make sure that we’ll do everything we can to hand our nation off to the next generation better than it was before,” he said.