UPDATE @ 8:53 PM, EST The gap is inching wider again, McCain now leading by almost 40K votes with nearly half the votes in. Now comes word from Time that Rudy is set to endorse McCain as early as tomorrow. If the McCain lead holds, and he picks up the Rudy endorsement (though weakened, of course) McCain will be the GOP nominee.

UPDATE: (source CNN)

John McCain has long had trouble courting the most conservative members of his party, and exit polls of Florida Republican primary voters show a sizeable number continue not to support him.

According to the exit polls, 62 percent of primary voters identified themselves as conservative and 37 percent of them voted for Mitt Romney, compared to the 27 percent who went for McCain.

But McCain is the overwhelming favorite among the 28 percent of Republican voters who identified themselves as moderate, and the 11 percent who said they were liberal. The Arizona senator beats Romney among moderates 40-22 percent, and among liberals 46 percent to 25 percent.

UPDATE: FoxNews is reporting that McCain did better than expected with registered republicans, staying within 3 points of Romney. Romney is crushing McCain among conservatives. But the real news is that Romney is losing to McCain among economic voters.

UPDATE: Actual vote totals are picking up steam (12% in) and McCain has opened a bit of a lead. (3%, about 14K votes). Early voting and absentee not yet dumped into the totals.

EARLY EXITS: (source: ABC)

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.

EARLY EXITS (source: Drudge): McCain 34.3%, Romney 32.6%, Giuliani 15.3%, Huckabee 12%

EARLY EXITS (source: FoxNews):

-1 in 5 voters made up their minds in the last 24 hours, they split evenly between Mitt and Mac.
-6 in 10 called themselves conservatives.
-Seniors and hispanics are two-to-one going with Mac.
-Conservatives and those naming illegal immigration going for Mitt.

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