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US Republican Presidential Candidates Face Off in Florida Primary

Republican presidential candidates are hoping a victory in Tuesday's Florida primary will give them a clear lead in the race for the party's nomination. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that voting for the Democratic Party is seen as mostly symbolic, because the candidates have avoided campaigning here.

Even before the polls opened, more than one million voters in Florida cast early ballots in the state's Democratic and Republican primaries. Experts say results from Florida, which has a large and diverse voter base, may signal key trends for upcoming votes.

Republican leaders Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney remain in a close battle for their party's lead, with polls showing a slight advantage for McCain in Florida. The two men campaigned actively in Florida and exchanged criticism of each other on Monday.

At one campaign stop, McCain accused Romney of being a liberal on some issues, and attacked his economic record as state governor.

"When he was governor, they [Massachusetts] had the third or fourth worst economy of any state in America," he said.

Romney is relying on his record as governor and corporate executive, to tell voters he can help prevent a recession and create new jobs.

He also attacked McCain's record in the Senate, including legislation McCain backed on campaign finance reform and immigration overhaul as well as his proposal on greenhouse gas limits.

"Senator McCain is noted for three major pieces of legislation," he said. "I think all of them were badly flawed."

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is hoping for a strong showing in Florida, where he has focused most of his campaign activities. Giuliani is trying to take advantage of the links between New York and Florida, where many New Yorkers come to retire.

During a campaign stop on Monday, Giuliani stressed his commitment to security issues and the need to address concerns over the nation's energy supply.

"For 30 years we have been talking about energy independence," he said. "Energy independence is now a matter of national security, and I will get it done if you elect me."

Opinion polls show Giuliani is in a close race for third place with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Democratic voters also are casting ballots in Florida, although the vote may have little impact on the party's final decision for a presidential candidate. National party leaders stripped the state of its nominating delegates, after Florida Democrats moved up the date of their primary.

Democratic candidates have agreed not to campaign in the state, although Senator Hillary Clinton has said she opposes the decision and planned to be here on polling day.

Meanwhile, Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, and former Senator John Edwards have been making campaign stops across the nation before so-called Super Tuesday next week, when more than 20 states hold primaries and caucuses.