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Clinton wins, but does it matter?

She beats Barack Obama in Florida, but Democrats disagree on the significance.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 30, 2008


TAMPA - Hillary Rodham Clinton won a resounding victory over Barack Obama on Tuesday in the Florida Democratic presidential primary. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the results may - or may not - be important.

At the Green Iguana Bar and Grill in Tampa, about 100 Clinton supporters chanted and clapped when CNN called the New York senator the winner as polls closed in the Panhandle. Obama supporters who gathered at Ferg's Sports Bar in St. Petersburg said their celebration was more about Obama's victory in South Carolina on Saturday than what they called a meaningless vote in Florida.

"I'm here for the camaraderie," said Obama supporter Frank Lupo, 65, of St. Petersburg. "The numbers, they aren't significant."

Lupo's assessment aside, the numbers said this: With 76 percent of the state's votes counted, Clinton had 50 percent, and Obama had 33 percent. Exit polls showed that Obama won 70 percent of the black vote, roughly the same percentage he won in South Carolina. Clinton won 53 percent of the white vote and 59 percent of the Hispanic vote.

At a hastily arranged rally in Davie, Clinton promptly declared victory. Whatever the stakes.

"I am convinced that with this resounding vote, with the millions of Americans who will vote next Tuesday, we will send a clear message that America is back, and we will take charge of our destiny once again," Clinton said.

The importance of Florida's Democratic results are open to interpretation.

The Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of its delegates to this summer's nominating convention when the state decided to move its presidential primary up to Jan. 29 - making the results in one sense irrelevant. In deference to the four early primary and caucus states - Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in Florida ahead of Tuesday's vote.

Without a barrage of television advertisements or a week's worth of candidate appearances, Clinton may have won simply because she's better known than Obama. The Obama campaign certainly wants you to believe that.

Clinton believes it was something else.

"I could not come here in person to ask you for your votes, but I am here to thank you for your votes today," she said. "This has been a record turnout because Floridians wanted their voices to be heard. I promise I'll do everything I can not only to make sure that Florida Democratic delegates are seated but that Florida is in the winning column in 2008."

In Tampa, local Clinton supporters agreed.

"If the Democrats want to win in November, it has to come through Florida," said Clinton supporter Kyle Simon, 24. "Hillary showed tonight she's the candidate that can deliver this state."

In St. Petersburg, the Obama supporters could only chuckle.

"I'd want to make the results more important, too, if I got the thumping Clinton got last week," said Johnny Bardine, a 27-year-old lawyer who is part of the local Obama O-Train group.

Clinton on Tuesday reiterated a pledge to try to seat Florida's delegates at the national convention in Denver. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, ducked the question during a Tuesday afternoon conference call with reporters. It's still unclear whether any of the rhetoric will matter.

It's also unclear what Tuesday's results mean.

"The notion that Florida doesn't matter is just a fallacy," said Clinton supporter Adam Green, a 45-year-old real estate developer. "To say that Florida doesn't matter is extremely short sighted."

Answered Bardine, an Obama supporter: "In every place Obama has been, he's done very well. He couldn't be in Florida. It's that simple."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.