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MCCAIN, ROMNEY BURY HATCHET

In the climactic Florida clash of their yearlong rivalry, Mitt Romney called John McCain a dishonest and liberal Washington insider unworthy of the Republican presidential nomination. McCain portrayed Romney as a failed former governor who had "changed positions on literally every major issue."

But Thursday, a week after abandoning his quest for the White House, Romney endorsed the Arizona senator Thursday and asked his national convention delegates to swing behind the likely nominee.

"Even when the contest was close and our disagreements were debated, the caliber of the man was apparent," the former Massachusetts governor said, standing alongside his one-time rival. "This is a man capable of leading our country at a dangerous hour."

"Primaries are tough," said McCain, referring to their earlier rancor. "We know it was a hard campaign and now we move forward, we move forward together for the good of our party and the nation."

McCain effectively sealed the nomination last week when Romney withdrew from the race; only former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and libertarian-leaning Texas Rep. Ron Paul remain. Neither has a chance to catch McCain in the convention delegate hunt.

Romney called on his delegates to the Republican national convention to support McCain, which would put the senator close to the 1,191 needed to clinch the nomination.

After Romney's announcement, McCain picked up endorsements from eight members of the Republican National Committee who will attend the convention and can support whomever they choose. That gave McCain 851 delegates, to 242 for Huckabee. It left Romney with 277 delegates.

'Hey, it's the economy once again, everyone'

The nation's economic anxieties took center stage in the increasingly rancorous Democratic presidential race Thursday as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama tilted their campaigns toward blue-collar voters in the upcoming Wisconsin and Ohio primaries.

Both candidates tweaked their advertising and campaign messages to deliver stinging television ads and stress strong populist themes on the economy. Despite focusing openly on Ohio, which holds its primary March 4, Clinton prepared to spend much of the weekend in Wisconsin, where her campaign was diverting resources to match Obama's organization and week-old media campaign. The Wisconsin primary is Tuesday.

Clinton, criticized for taking corporate special interest contributions, proposed new restrictions Thursday on oil, insurance, credit card, student loan and Wall Street investment companies that she said would save middle-class Americans $55-billion a year.

While Clinton toured an auto plant in Lordstown, Obama was securing endorsements from two major labor unions. A day after he visited a GM factory in Janesville, Wis., to unveil his $210-billion plan to create construction and "green industry" jobs, Obama won the backing of the United Food and Commercial Workers and was on the verge of an endorsement from the Service Employees International Union.

Clinton finally won the popular vote in New Mexico's Democratic caucus and picked up one extra delegate Thursday, nine days after Super Tuesday voting ended.

State Democratic chairman Brian Colon made the announcement after a marathon hand count of 17,000 provisional ballots that had to be given to voters on Feb. 5 because of long lines and a shortage of ballots.

The final statewide count gave her a 1,709-vote edge over rival Obama, 73,105 or 48.8 percent of the total vote to 71,396 or 47.6 percent.

A flap unfolds over funding pledge

McCain's campaign said Thursday that it stood by a year-old pledge made with Obama that each would accept public financing for the general election if the nominee of the opposing party did the same. But Obama's campaign refused to reaffirm its earlier commitment.

Under financing rules, the nominees are restricted to spending about $85-million each for the two-month general election campaign, far less than what Obama might be able to raise on his own.

On Tuesday, one of McCain's advisers said the campaign had decided to forgo public financing, an awkward admission for a senator who has pressed for campaign finance reform. The McCain campaign's latest stand, first reported Thursday by the Financial Times, puts the onus for abandoning the system on Obama, as several McCain advisers called on him to make good on his pledge.

Some black leaders switching to Obama

In a fresh sign of trouble for Clinton, one of her congressional black supporters, Georgia Rep. David Scott, now intends to vote for Obama at the Democratic National Convention, and a second, more prominent Georgian, Rep. John Lewis, is openly discussing a possible switch.

Clinton No. 9 in Senate 'earmarks'

Clinton ranked among the top 10 senators who secured the most funding for local "earmark" projects, according to a nonpartisan study. The New York senator, listed at No. 9, secured about $342-million last year. Obama tallied $91-million in earmarks for his home state of Illinois. McCain, who rejects the use of earmarks, took zero.

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