Reexamining Rudy’s Florida Strategy

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For months now, the campaign of Rudy Giuliani has been trying to get America to stop paying attention. Don’t worry about the former New York mayor’s declining state and national polls. Don’t mind the winners of the early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina. Don’t even focus too much on all the mayor’s thin schedule or his stump speech, which is often flat, abbreviated and meandering.

All that matters, they argue, is the delegate math. Since the largest voting states begin going to the polls with the Florida primary on January 29, he believes that the current frenzies over Iowa and New Hampshire are beside the points. He figures if he can win Florida the rest of the Republican Party will close ranks behind him. So America’s Mayor has effectively put all his hope for presidency in one state, where he will jet on Wednesday for another tour, which will continue over the weekend.

But as the months pass, it has become harder and harder to take Giuliani’s strategy seriously, for two main reasons. First, even if he only needs to win Florida to set off a cascade to the nomination, he still must prove that he is a capable candidate, not just a well known leader. So far he has yet to show much evidence of this. He now sits in fourth place in New Hampshire polls, behind Mike Huckabee and nearly tied with Ron Paul. He can argue all he wants that he has not fully committed to the state, but that won’t change the fact that he has seriously campaigned here for months, including a spate of costly television ads and countless diner grab ‘n grins. Nonetheless, the former New York mayor is on the verge of getting less votes in New England than a former southern Baptist pastor from Arkansas. That means something.

At minimum, this suggests that momentum matters. Huckabee is riding a wave of positive press from Iowa. Which brings us to Giuliani’s second big problem. As it stands, he is barely leading in Florida polls–just 2 points according to the latest Real Clear Politics average. Now these polls will certainly shift over the coming weeks. But barring a collapse of his rivals, it’s hard to see why they will go up for Giuliani. He is already blanketing the state with television ads. He is campaigning there now in a vacuum. Yet still his polls are declining. The winner of South Carolina on January 19 will come into Florida with a head of steam. We don’t know who the winner will be. But we know it will not be Giuliani. And if Giuliani loses Florida, his delegate math doesn’t mean a thing.