Sen. John McCain has won the Republican primary in Florida, narrowly beating his rival Mitt Romney and gaining momentum ahead of Super Tuesday on Feb. 5.

"Florida has always been a special place to me, and it is all the more so today," said McCain at a victory rally, referring in part to his military training in the state. "Our victory might not have reached landslide proportions, but it is sweet nonetheless."

With 75 per cent of polls reporting, McCain had 36 per cent support and Romney had 31 per cent. Rudy Giuliani was a distant third with 15 per cent.

McCain, 71, had endorsements from Sen. Mel Martinez and Gov. Charlie Crist, Florida's top two elected Republicans. A number of Florida newspapers have endorsed McCain.

Name recognition and perceived strength on national security issues were also seen as McCain's strengths. The former prisoner of war in Vietnam was expected to do well in parts of Florida with a strong military presence.

McCain has won all of the state's 57 delegates, and the last primary before voters in more than 20 states head to the polls next Tuesday.

Romney aggressively courted absentee voters and had a significant get-out-the-vote effort. Florida has been hit hard by the economic downturn in the U.S., and so Romney's messaging on the economy was seen to play well.

Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, gambled much of his campaign on winning Florida.

His main claim to fame was being New York's mayor during the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001, an event he has constantly mentioned in debates and speeches.

"He needs to quit talking about 9/11 and dial 911," New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote on Sunday about Giuliani's faltering campaign.

Giuliani had predicted the winner in Florida would take the Republican nomination -- and predicted the winner would be him.

"I expect to win it," he had said. "You don't contemplate losing it. That isn't something you do on the day of a primary."

American media, including CNN and The Associated Press, are now reporting that Giuliani may abandon his campaign Wednesday, and give his full support to McCain.

Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who scored an early win in Iowa but nothing since, barely campaigned in Florida and came in fourth behind Giuliani.

Clinton wins among Democrats

Tuesday was also a primary day for Democrats in Florida. With about 75 per cent of the votes counted, Sen. Hillary Clinton had the lead with 50 per cent support.

Because the state moved up its primary date without permission, Florida won't be allowed to send any delegates to the U.S. Democratic National Convention in August where the nominee will be selected.

But Clinton still declared a victory.

"I am thrilled to have had this vote of confidence that you have given me today," she told a cheering crowd in Davie, Fla. "And I promise you I'll do everything I can to make sure not only are Florida's Democratic delegates seated, but Florida is in the winning column for Democrats in 2008."

Clinton's rival Sen. Barack Obama did not campaign in Florida, and he called the race a "beauty contest."

The Democrats have no primaries before next Tuesday.

With files from The Associated Press