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Last Updated: Friday, 25 January 2008, 08:12 GMT
Republicans chase Florida votes
Left to right  Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee.
Republicans found some common ground over taxes and Clinton
Republican presidential hopefuls have focused on the economy and criticised Democrat Hillary Clinton in a debate in Florida ahead of a key primary poll.

State frontrunners John McCain and Mitt Romney sparred over tax cuts. Mr McCain accused Mrs Clinton of wanting to "wave the white flag" in Iraq.

He and Mrs Clinton were both boosted by endorsements from the New York Times.

Mrs Clinton and rival Barack Obama are in the final stretch of their campaign for Saturday's South Carolina vote.

The Republican primary in Florida on Tuesday is crucial for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who trails Mitt Romney and John McCain in polls there, despite his decision to focus his efforts on the state.

Recent polls in Florida suggest John McCain and Mitt Romney are neck-and-neck as frontrunners in the Florida race, well ahead of Mr Giuliani in third place, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee behind him.

Dennis Kucinich
Mr Kucinich stood down from his second attempt

The economy and threat of recession is a major concern for US voters, and was a key issue in the debate.

Candidates were careful not to criticise the economic stimulus package agreed between the White House and the Democrats in Congress, but most said they would cut taxes further.

"It's something I support and I look forward to taking it further," said Mr Romney, who backs permanent tax cuts.

Mr McCain said he would vote for the package and would push for keeping tax cuts won from Congress in 2001 and 2003.

"I'm disappointed because I think it's very important that we make the Bush tax cuts permanent," he said.

Mr Giuliani also welcomed the $150bn (76bn) package, that will offer tax rebates to boost growth, "but I think it does not go far enough," he said. "We should be very aggressive."

The candidates almost joined ranks in their attacks on Mrs Clinton and her stance on the war in Iraq.

Mr McCain said US troops "don't want us to raise the white flag of surrender like Senator Clinton does. They know they can win".

Mr Romney added: "We cannot turn Iraq over to al-Qaeda and have al-Qaeda have a safe haven for which they can recruit people to carry out bombings, attack our country and our friends around the world."

Florida will be the first large state to vote in the battle for the Republican nomination.

Mr Giuliani has spent two weeks campaigning in the state. For both him and Mr Romney, Florida has emerged as the make-or-break state in their campaigns.

"We are gaining support. I think you'll see that over the next few days," Mr Giuliani was quoted by AP. "We are going to accomplish it against the odds."

Paper backing

The New York Times has formally endorsed Mr McCain and Mrs Clinton as the preferred Republican and Democratic candidates.

By choosing Mrs Clinton, we are not denying Mr Obama's appeal or his gifts
New York Times editorial

The liberal paper said Mr McCain was the only contender who promises to end the George Bush style of government.

It also said it was hugely impressed by Mrs Clinton's knowledge, the force of her intellect and her experience.

"The idea of the first African-American nominee of a major party also is exhilarating, and so is the prospect of the first woman nominee," it said in an editorial. "'Firstness' is not a reason to choose."

The Democratic Party is looking towards South Carolina, the next stage in the hard-fought race between Mr Obama, who won in Iowa, and Mrs Clinton who took New Hampshire and Nevada.

Polls suggest Mr Obama leads in the state, where the two rivals are battling for the African American vote.

Kucinich withdraws

The two senators have frequently traded verbal blows on the campaign trail.

Both camps have had to pull radio adverts critical of their rival running partners.

All the contenders are looking towards the potentially decisive "Super Tuesday" on 5 February, when 22 states will vote for a candidate from either side to stand in November's presidential election.

Meanwhile, Democrat Dennis Kucinich, in his second attempt for the presidency, said he would pull out of the race.

Mr Kucinich, 61, told Cleveland's Plain Dealer newspaper he would announce on Friday that he would be "transiting out of the presidential campaign".

Select from the list below to view state level results.

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