John McCain’s wave of political momentum is building as he comes off a major win in the winner-take-all Florida presidential primary and prepares to receive the endorsement Wednesday of one-time Republican national frontrunner Rudy Giuliani.
Wednesday night, the Arizona Republican will come face-to-face with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in what has been narrowed to basically a two-man race between the two. Romney came in a close second place in Florida’s polls.
The dwindling field of GOP contenders will travel coast-to-coast Wednesday, leaving The Sunshine State to debate in California, the biggest state on next week’s Super Tuesday primary battle royale of more than 20 contests.
Both men are predicting they’ll come out on top after next week’s voting.
“My friends, in one week we will have as close to a national primary as we’ve ever had in this country. I intend to win it and be the nominee of our party,” McCain told supporters Tuesday night.
Romney, appearing on FOX News Wednesday morning, said the choice for voters is either for McCain, “or do they want to vote for me — who does his best to bring together the Republican coalition that Ronald Reagan built.
“I think I stand a good chance in that contest,” Romney said.
Giuliani, who placed a disappointing third place Tuesday even after staking his entire political fortune on the state, told reporters Tuesday he would be heading to California, but did not say he would specifically attend the debate — an early sign the campaign wouldn’t exist by debate time Tuesday.
And sources confirm to FOX News that the endorsement is sealed up, with only the McCain campaign to dictate when the event will happen later Wednesday.
Tuesday night, McCain praised Giuliani’s efforts in the campaign.
“I want to thank my dear friend, my dear friend, Rudy Giuliani, who invested his heart and soul in this primary and who conducted himself with all the qualities of the exceptional American leader he truly. … Thank you, Rudy, for all you have added to this race and for being an inspiration to me and millions of Americans,” McCain said.
Giuliani and the traveling press corps were set to depart Orlando, Fla., at 9:15 a.m. in a chartered 727 with a planned refueling stop in Texas en route to California, where a press conference is scheduled at about 3 p.m. PT (6 p.m. ET) at the Reagan Presidential Library, although Giuliani’s press aides say McCain’s staff will finalize the details.
Giuliani looked upbeat this morning and just grabbed a coffee on the way to his parked car at the hotel.
California — The Golden State — could prove to be another state of fortune for McCain as the popular and famous Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears to be nearing a McCain endorsement.
In an interview this week with The San Francisco Chronicle, Schwarzenegger reportedly tiptoed around a McCain endorsement, praising him for his ability to work across party lines while facing a torrent of criticism from conservatives.
“I think that you should never worry about being hammered,” Schwarzenegger told the Chronicle. “If you want to lead, there will always be people against it. I hear this kind of stuff all the time.”
And Tuesday, Schwarzenegger praised McCain’s work on the environment, according to a local ABC News report.
Part of the credit to McCain’s win in Florida has been given to a late endorsement by Gov. Charlie Crist, who upon giving the endorsement offered his state political machine to get out the vote on behalf of McCain.
All this means a steeper battle Romney. Romney also has grabbed wins along the way in Wyoming and Nevada, giving him the second-most Republican delegates even after losing all of Florida’s 57 available delegates to McCain Tuesday night.
For his part, Romney is dismissing suggestions that Florida is pointing to a McCain mandate, with a campaign staffer telling FOX News, “There are two horses coming out of Florida.”
Also expected at the debate Wednesday night at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Huckabee finished behind Giuliani Tuesday night, but promised to press on citing his expected strength among evangelical Christians in southern states like Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and other southern states.