WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Florida primaries appear to have boosted the fortunes of the most favored candidate in the Jewish community – and dashed the hopes of its most popular Republican one.
U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) won the Democratic primary by a wide margin, following an equally lopsided loss in South Carolina last weekend to her Senate colleague, Barack Obama of Illinois. On the Republican side, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani finished a distant third, after having based his entire campaign strategy on a win in the Sunshine State.
A survey conducted in November by the American Jewish Committee found that Clinton and Giuliani boasted by large margins the largest favorable rating among Jewish Democrats and Jewish Republicans, respectively.
Giuliani, who was backed by many of the GOP’s main Jewish donors and was advised by leading neoconservatives, hinted that he would drop out of the presidential race Tuesday night. He is expected to endorse the GOP winner in Florida, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
McCain was projected Tuesday night to beat out Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, by a slim margin. Giuliani was struggling to maintain his lead over Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who had not seriously contested the state.
For months Giuliani had led in the national polls, but his hopes slipped after a gambit for an early win in New Hampshire dissipated. The former New York mayor then pinned his campaign on Florida, saying the winner there would likely become the candidate.
Media criticized Giuliani for not running a grassroots campaign, keeping his distance from supporters and focusing almost exclusively on the threat of terrorism – a gambit that had endeared him to neoconservatives.
In a speech conceding Florida to McCain, he did not outright quit the campaign, but suggested that announcement was not far off.
“I don’t back down from a principled fighter but there must always be a larger purpose,” Giuliani said as supporters choked back tears. “Elections are about fighting for a cause larger than ourselves.”
CNN reported Giuliani was in talks with the McCain campaign to endorse the Arizona senator, perhaps as early as Wednesday.
McCain, claiming victory, thanked his rivals but earned the biggest cheers when he mentioned Giuliani, saying the former mayor “conducted himself with all of the qualities of the exceptional American leader he truly is.”
Clinton started off her victory speech Tuesday night in Davie, Fla., near Ft. Lauderdale, by thanking an increasingly influential Jewish lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), and three other politicians who had campaigned on her behalf.
Wasserman Schultz, a national co-chair of Clinton’s campaign, was first elected to Congress in 2004. She raised millions of dollars for fellow Democrats in 2006, cementing her reputation as a rising star in the party.
Democratic candidates had pledged not to campaign in the Sunshine State, after the national party stripped Florida of its delegates as punishment for moving its primary ahead of Feb. 5.
But in her speech Tuesday night, Clinton pledge to push for Florida’s delegates to be seated at the party’s nominating convention.