The Florida primary (UPDATE 17: CONFIRMED – RUDY TO ENDORSE MCCAIN WEDNESDAY)

*This post has been bumped to the top, and will be updated frequently this evening. Any newer posts will appear below. **

Election 2008The polls are now open in Florida. Here are the final polling numbers going into today’s Florida primary, showing a neck and neck race between Romney and McCain. As I noted yesterday, Rudy is dropping hints he may drop out if he doesn’t do well in FL.

While the Democrat primary in Florida is no more than a popularity contest since they were stripped of their delegates by the DNC after moving up their primary too early, there are 57 delegates at stake on the Republican side, which is half of the normal Florida delegate count (the GOP punished the Florida Republican party for the same reasons the DNC did Florida Democrats). Unlike the other states who proportioned their delegates out, Florida is a “winner take all” state, making it the biggest prize to date for Republicans seeking the nomination. Here’s the Republican delegate count as it stands at this point.

Early voting may play a key role in deciding today’s primary winner, as nearly one million early/absentee voters have already cast their ballots. A record turnout is anticipated.

My prediction? Romney over McCain by 3%. I think Rudy might surprise us with a strong 3rd place showing, considering the absentee ballots may favor him as he was once upon a time the frontrunner in the Florida polls. I’ll update this post throughout the day when I can on any interesting news I come across related to the primary.

Update 1 – 10:26 AM: Even though tonight’s results on the Dem side won’t officially count in the delegate totals, we all know how Hillary wants to make it so that they do. La Clinton has already planned her FL victory party and will be making a personal appearance – Marc Ambinder has the details.

Update 2 – 11:54 AM: The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that voting today so far has been mostly smooth.

Update 3 – 4:16 PM: Just read via NRO’s Campaign Spot that early exit poll results are expected to start rolling in around 5 pm.

Update 4 – 5:53 PM: Jim Geraghty at NRO’s Campaign Spot reports on early exit polling results:

The first wave of exit poll numbers, including absentees: McCain 34.3 percent, Romney 32.6 percent, Giuliani 15.3 percent, Huckabee 12 percent.

UPDATE: Interestingly a second source — yes, guardians of the exit poll data, I have not one but two spies within your ranks! — tells me these are the “second wave” numbers. Also, this source heard these numbers DON’T include the absentee voters.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Adam notes, “I also noticed the political trading markets pop a bit toward Romney right after 5 o’clock. Romney had been trading in the high 30s and now he’s mid-40s.”

If the numbers don’t include absentee voters, that could mean Rudy’s numbers are much higher than what these early numbers suggest, but probably not enough to overcome the huge deficit between himself and the frontrunners.

It’s still early, tho, so don’t let the slight edge McCain has right now alarm you. The night is young …

Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel reports that some area voters were experiencing issues at the polling places today, with one voter being told there was no Dem primary.

Update 5 – 6:41 PM: Here are some interesting exit poll results:

The number of conservatives voting in today’s Florida Republican primary ticked up again this election cycle and most of them showed up at the polls this year with the economy on their minds.

If these preliminary exit poll results hold, the GOP electorate will have moved further right since 1992, when about half described themselves as conservative. This year, conservatives accounted for six in 10 voters. Fewer than half of voters — about 4 in 10 — consider themselves evangelicals.

The economy is by far the top issue — just about half said so in these preliminary results. That’s double the next highest priorities terrorism and illegal immigration. Though more than six in 10 expressed positive feelings about President Bush about as many said the nation’s economy is not going well.

Slightly more Republicans were looking for a candidate who shared their values as opposed to one that has the right experience. But more than half said the candidates’ position on the issues was more important than their personal qualities.

GOP voters are overwhelmingly white — more than in 8 in 10 of them. More than half the voters were male, slightly higher than in the last two Florida primaries. Hispanics account for about one in 10 voters; just over half of them Cuban, about what they’ve been in the past.

More than half said illegal immigrants should be offered citizenship or given temporary worker status. Somewhat fewer, around four in 10, said they should be deported.
But this race may not be captivating seniors as much as in the past. They appear to be turning out in a slightly smaller proportion to the rest of the vote when compared with 2000, when they were about four in 10.

Just over a quarter of the voters were veterans.

The battle between Romney and McCain isn’t just taking place in Florida, but also at The Corner, where there’s a fiesty debate going on between Romney supporters and McCain supporters. Make sure to check it out (scroll down to VDH’s 3:47 post, and then scroll up to read the back and forth exchanges).

Update 6 – 7:05 PM: The polls are closed on the eastern time zone part of Florida, but remain open in the panhandle, where it’s central time.

Update 7 – 7:24 PM: Sorry for the error on my last update – Romney was NOT up slightly in those exits. Those were the same numbers I’d seen earlier at Campaign Spot.

Here are more issue-related exits, via Fox News/The Page blog:

Senior Citizens– McCain 40, Romney 31, Giuliani 18, Huckabee 7

Veterans– McCain 37, Romney 36, Giuliani 14, Huckabee 8

Hispanics– McCain 50, Giuliani 26, Romney 16, Huckabee 5

For voters whose top issue is:

Immigration
Romney 45, McCain 22, Giuliani 17, Huckabee 14

Economy
McCain 38, Romney 34, Huckabee 12, Giuliani 10

Update 8 – 7:30 PM: Results are starting to come in. Go here and keep refreshing for updates. If you’re interested in the Dem primary results, click here. Turnout percentages will be posted here, but don’t include a break down by party.

The Miami Herald (scroll) and Yuma Sun both have a results page that, unlike the Florida state elections page, tells you what percentage of precincts have reported. But the Florida elections page seems to be the most up to date on the actual vote counts (at this point, anyway). Refresh any of them frequently for updates.

Update 9 – 7:46 PM: It’s neck and neck with just slightly around 8% reporting – 1,000 votes separate McCain and Romney.

Update 10 – 8:06 PM: All Florida polls are now closed. The latest results with 20% reporting have McCain ahead by around 20K votes.

The Fix blog reported a couple of hours ago what counties to watch for:

The Fix asked several unaffiliated Republican strategists who know Florida well to offer up some key counties that will comprise the central battleground between Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Here’s the list of key counties:

* Orlando area: Orange, Seminole, Lake and Volusia

* Jacksonville area: DuVal, Clay and St. John’s

* Tampa/St. Petersburg area: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco

* South Florida: Lee and Collier

Here’s the vote break down by county so far.

Update 11 – 8:16 PM: No surprises on the Dem side as the nets start to call Florida for Hillary. On the GOP side, Mitt Romney has narrowed McCain’s lead to 9,000 votes w/ 29% reporting.

Update 12 – 8:36 PM: McCain’s up 22K votes with 37% reporting.

Update 13 – 9:04 PM: With 47% reporting, McCain is leading Romney by 37k votes. Just heard on Fox News that a lot of the panhandle has yet to be counted (fully) and that is supposedly one of the areas Romney is pretty strong in.

Update 14 – 9:13 PM: Fox News is calling it for McCain, as is the AP. He’s up by 50k votes with 51% reporting.

Time’s The Page blog reports that “sources” are saying a Rudy endorsement of McCain could come as early as Wednesday.

CNN just called it for McCain, too.

Update 15 – 9:33 PM: Rudy’s speech sounded like one of someone who doesn’t intend on staying in the race. Romney’s making his now. Impressive. I could see myself supporting Romney just on the strength of that speech.

Update 16 – 9:47 PM: McCain’s making his victory speeches now, and notes that this was an all Republican primary and he still won.

Update 17 – 10:15 PM: Fox News is confirming that Rudy will endorse McCain tomorrow.

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