29 January 2008

Florida flop spells the end for Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani put all of his money on Florida – and lost.

The former New York City mayor’s presidential aspirations suffered a mortal wound with his disappointing finish in Florida’s GOP primary contest Tuesday, and Giuliani is widely reported to be on the verge of dropping out of the race and endorsing Tuesday night’s winner, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

With their votes, Florida Republicans likely ended Giuliani’s hopes for the nomination, severely damaged former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s chances and left McCain in a fierce battle for the nomination with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who finished a solid second in the Florida contest.

With 90% of the precincts counted, McCain led Romney 36% to 31%. Giuliani was in third place at 15%, just ahead of Huckabee at 14%.

For now, Giuliani remains in the race. But in addressing his supporters in Florida Tuesday night, he spoke in the past tense about his campaign.

“The responsibility of leadership doesn’t end with a single campaign. If you believe in a cause you continue to fight for it, and we will,” Giuliani told the cheering crowd.

Huckabee, like Giuliani, did not pull out of the race Tuesday despite being bereft of cash and without a victory since the Iowa caucuses at the beginning of the month. But, unlike Giuliani, he made it clear he intends to remain in the hunt.

“We’re in this game for all nine innings,” Huckabee told a subdued crowd of Florida supporters, as he headed off for California for another GOP debate tomorrow night.

Meanwhile Giuliani’s campaign manager Mike DuHaime, in an interview on MSNBC, said the plan is for his candidate to head to California as well.

However, several news outlets reported late Tuesday night that Giuliani is expected to drop out of the race and endorse McCain Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., the sight of Wednesday night’s debate.

If Giuliani does pull out of the race, it will mark the end of a once high-flying campaign that crumbled in the space of one month.

The former mayor led the national polls for virtually all of last year. As late as Dec. 17, Giuliani was atop a USA Today/Gallup national poll by 11 points over Huckabee, his closest competitor at the time.

In Florida, opinion polls were portending a four-man scrum as late as mid-January.

But, as Giuliani turned in one poor performance after another in the primaries and caucuses earlier in the month – all single-digit finishes – his Florida campaign began to come apart.

Giuliani eschewed campaigning in the early-voting states and spent nearly all of January in Florida, which he hoped to use a springboard to Tsunami Tuesday, next week’s 22-state delegate bonanza.

Dr. Chris Malone, a political science professor at Pace University, said Giuliani is a victim of his own strategy.

“He thought he’d do well in Florida, which is winner-take all, and then move on to other big states like New York, New Jersey and California on Feb. 5,” Malone said. “It doesn’t seem to have worked out that way.”

In the Sunshine State’s Democratic primary, Sen. Hillary Clinton handily defeated Sen. Barack Obama in a race that offered no delegates.

Florida’s delegates will not be seated at the party’s national convention, a sanction imposed by the Democratic National Committee to punish state party officials for moving up the date of Florida’s primary in violation of party rules.

The Democratic candidates all pledged not to campaign in the state. Clinton did stop in Davie, Fla. after the polls closed for a victory rally. She also made two fundraising appearances in the state Sunday night, which were not in violation of the pledge signed by the candidates.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was initially written for purposes other than this blog, purposes which required me to focus on the Giuliani angle of the story rather than McCain's win.

While we'll probably be on to tomorrow's endorsement and debate by the next time I get behind the keyboard, I will also try to find time to focus more on the results and exit polls from tonight.

With one job, one graduate school class, two blogs a wife and three kids, time may be a difficult commodity to come by, but I'll do my best.

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