COMMENTS: Fluffy Florida

The Presidential primary season pursued a bifurcated track in the South this Martin Luther King Day. The four major Republican contenders--Rudolph Giuliani, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney--assembled in Florida, where they vote next Tuesday. The three major Democrats--John Edwards, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama--were in South Carolina for a Monday night debate on CNN ahead of a Saturday ballot. Altogether Campaign 2008 accounted for 37% of the three-network newshole, with the Florida coverage qualifying as the Story of the Day. ABC logged its third Monday this month with limited commercials (24 min v CBS 19, NBC 19) courtesy of the pharmaceutical brands Lyrica and Caduet. ABC led with the friction between Obama and Rodham Clinton's husband Bill; CBS led from South Carolina; and NBC kicked off with the global economy as stock market prices fell worldwide even as Wall Street was closed in honor of the late Civil Rights leader.

All three networks assigned reporters to cover the kick off of full-throated campaigning in Florida--even though the candidates' events were more quirky than enlightening. Rudolph Giuliani's campaign bus drove round the Daytona International Speedway. John McCain targeted Cuban-Americans in Little Havana. Mitt Romney's went sort of hip-hop in Jacksonville with an embarrassing rendition of "Who Let the Dogs Out?" Mike Huckabee pledged to run "no Mickey Mouse operation." Huckabee's celebrity martial artist surrogate Chuck Norris went after the 71-year-old McCain's age. ABC's Jake Tapper quoted McCain's soundbite in response: "I may have to send my 95-year-old mother over and wash Chuck's mouth out with soap."

There were scant serious tidbits to be gleaned from this fluff. NBC's Ron Allen reported that "most everyone is talking about the ailing economy" and ABC's Tapper found Giuliani emphasizing tax cuts in his attacks on both McCain and Romney. CBS' Nancy Cordes anticipated the end of Fred Thompson's candidacy as "some of his staffers are starting to take jobs with other campaigns." She speculated that McCain might have problems compared with South Carolina, where he won, since Florida makes only registered Republicans eligible to vote.

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