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Giuliani -- Still Very Much In It

Remember Rudy Giuliani?

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani walks in part of The Three Kings Parade route in the Little Havana section of Miami on Jan. 13. (AP Photo)

You know, the one-time frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination? America's mayor, the man who seemed to glide through the first nine months of the 2008 campaign without a scratch?

If he's slipped your mind, you're not alone. Giuliani dropped from the national political conversation for much of the last month, a direct result of his decision to forego waging an aggressive campaign in any of the early voting states. As Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report, put it: "It's as if all the candidates but Giuliani are playing baseball in one stadium and Giuliani is waiting around by himself in another stadium. Which game would you watch?"

The only time Giuliani has cracked the national news in any real way over the past month was late last week when it was announced that much of his senior staff members are going without pay in order to save money for a final push in Florida. While that decision might make good financial sense, it's risky politics. Why give the impression that your campaign is hemorrhaging money if, as insiders insist, it isn't?

And yet, despite all of those problems, we can't help but think the way the GOP nomination fight has played out so far leaves open a scenario whereby Giuliani can still win the nomination. The Fix is not arguing that Giuliani WILL win the nomination; rather, for all of the ink spilled about the decline of Hizzoner's campaign, there still remains a reasonable path for Giuliani to wind up as the Republican standard-bearer.

Giuliani is still in it because the nightmare scenario for his campaign failed to materialize. That scenario was back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire for Mitt Romney, victories that would have given Romney a huge burst of momentum and made it very difficult for Giuliani to wait all the way until Florida's Jan. 29 primary to get into the game.

Of course, Romney won neither contest; Mike Huckabee bested him in Iowa and John McCain took first place in New Hampshire.

But in what turns out to be good news for Giuliani, Romney's not out of it yet. According to three new polls out Monday morning, Romney is either ahead or statistically tied with McCain in Michigan, where voters go to the polls today. Romney's lead in his home state creates the real potential that three different Republican candidates will have won the first three states, with South Carolina looming next Saturday and Florida now just 15 days away.

Could Giuliani have scripted a better scenario? It's hard to imagine how. Even if McCain can pull out a win in Michigan and use the momentum gained there to score another victory in South Carolina, it seems extremely unlikely that Giuliani won't still have a chance to derail the GOP frontrunner in Florida.

As one senior adviser to Giuliani put it: "It's been a mixed bag in terms of explaining our strategy to people. Ultimately the people we have to explain it to are Floridians, and I feel pretty good."

Polling in Florida shows a slow but steady decline for Giuliani, although, in most surveys he retains an edge over Huckabee, McCain and Romney.

Giuliani made few visits to early states like Iowa, Michigan and South Carolina, but he has lavished attention on the Sunshine State, spending 40 days there to date and 13 since Thanksgiving alone. Giuliani kicked off a three-day bus tour of the state on Sunday, trekking from Miami to Jacksonville. As his rivals spend today campaigning in Michigan, Giuliani will be in Florida. Giuliani has also assiduously courted the Florida media -- granting coveted interviews with local print, radio and television outlets as well as huddling with any number of editorial boards.

And taking the courtship to a new level: The Giuliani campaign is running an ad in Florida aimed at portraying the state's voters as a reality check in the GOP nomination fight:

The key line? "Florida has a chance to turn down the noise and show the world that leadership is what really matters."

"He is reintroducing himself to Florida," said one adviser, adding that the month-long low period is "giving us the time to really do it right in terms of spending time in Florida."

Maybe. It could also be draining momentum from a campaign that just six weeks ago looked headed to the nomination. The fascinating thing about Giuliani's "fall" is that nothing has fundamentally changed. He approached the first five states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina -- knowing that a win was impossible and, therefore, it made more sense to not step on those playing fields. (The one notable exception was New Hampshire where, after spending a not insignificant amount of money on television ads, Giuliani pulled out after his poll numbers failed to move.)

So, why has conventional wisdom seemed to settle on the idea that Giuliani can't win?

The major reason is his fall in national polls. Giuliani was pegged as the frontrunner in the race thanks to his wide lead in national polls, a lead that was always thin since it was based almost solely on name identification. As actual votes were tallied and Giuliani failed to finish in the top tier, his national poll numbers have plummeted.

In the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, Giuliani placed fourth among the GOP field, with just 15 percent support, down ten points since the last Post-ABC survey in December. That trend is echoed in a series of recent national surveys, including the CBS/New York Times poll, CNN/Opinion Research and USA/Today Gallup -- all of which showed Giuliani falling from first place.

The reality is that the first nine months of this race overstated just how strong a frontrunner he was, while the last few weeks of surveys probably understate his chances at the nomination. National polls are helpful in determining broad trends within the electorate, but they tend to be less helpful in predicting the horse race as the numbers often sway in reaction to results in early states.

Another contributing factor to the perceived decline of Giuliani's campaign is that the 24-hour news cycle almost compels a granular approach to political coverage that accentuates the events of each day. Thus, the media often has trouble stepping back and seeing the broader picture in the fight for the nomination. Blogs like The Fix (sigh) further the idea that tomorrow is the most important day of any campaign, and, if not tomorrow, then certainly the day after tomorrow.

The truth of the matter is that the fundamentals that Giuliani needed to be in place to have a chance at the nomination remain. The GOP field is muddled, the wealthy candidate could be out of the race as early as Tuesday, and it is clear that Florida's primary will matter. The stories of an alleged fundraising shortfall have the potential to gum up the works for Giuliani, but it now seems likely that he will have the chance his campaign has long hoped for: To have a win in Florida mean something.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 15, 2008; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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