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Rudy's rallying cry: Florida or bust
In Tampa, Giuliani bills himself as a crisis-tested achiever. He counts on Florida to boost his presidential campaign.
By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published December 16, 2007
Judith and Rudy Giuliani wave to supporters after his Tampa Convention Center speech. "I'm ready to lead," he said.
[Chris Zuppa | Times]
[Chris Zuppa | Times]
GOP primary candidate Rudy Giuliani greets supporters after giving a speech Saturday at the Tampa Convention Center.
[Chris Zuppa | Times]
Lee Doughty, 70, of Brandon listens to Giuliani's speech. "Just wanted to see what he's like in person without the media filtering it for me," Doughty said.
TAMPA - Eighteen days before voting starts in one of modern history's most tumultuous Republican presidential primaries, former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani began his closing argument Saturday in the state he's banking on to seal his nomination.
"This is a time for leadership. This is a time for strength. This is a time to roll up our sleeves, not wring our hands," the former New York mayor told about 200 people at the Tampa Convention Center. "I've been tested in crisis. I'm ready to lead. And the time is right now."
The Giuliani team - trying to reignite a campaign dogged lately by controversies over his personal and business background - billed the speech outlining his vision as one of the most important in the campaign. Yet it offered little more than the conventional Republican agenda: keep America safe, cut taxes, crack down on illegal immigration, encourage school choice.
"If you are looking for perfection, you are not going to find it. Not in me and not in any candidate," said Giuliani, whose moderate positions on such issues as abortion and gay rights have turned off some conservatives.
"But if you are looking for a leader who has been tested in times of crisis, a leader who is ready to lead right now, a leader who has achieved results - results that some people thought were impossible - a leader who believes that there is no problem too serious for American solutions and a free, American spirit, I believe I am that leader."
Giuliani's standing in national polls has slipped in recent weeks, but he has at least two bright spots going for him.
One is Florida, a Giuliani stronghold and the first big state to vote in the GOP primary, on Jan. 29. The other is Mike Huckabee, the amiable former Arkansas governor whose surging campaign could help Giuliani withstand potential losses in the elections leading up to Florida.
"I like Mike a lot," Giuliani told the St. Petersburg Times on Saturday. "He's a really good man. It's not a question of whether he's qualified; it's a question of whether you think you're better qualified."
Anything that knocks the wind out of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney early helps Giuliani, whose late-state primary strategy no longer looks as risky as many observers thought.
Until Huckabee surged to first place in Iowa, where Romney has spent at least 20 times as much money, Romney looked like Giuliani's chief rival for the nomination. Polls showed Romney poised to sweep the first several races and ride a wave of momentum into Florida.
Now Romney is fighting Huckabee for his political survival in Iowa, and it's unclear whether anyone will have much momentum when Florida votes. Many Republicans question whether Huckabee has the campaign organization or money to withstand heightened scrutiny beyond the first few states.
"Huckabee could surge enough to get significant revenue, but I don't think it will be enough to carry him into Florida," said Attorney General Bill McCollum, Giuliani's Florida campaign chairman.
Starting Jan. 3 in Iowa, the Republican contests come fast and furious: New Hampshire on Jan. 8, Michigan on Jan. 15; South Carolina and Nevada on Jan. 19. Florida comes Jan. 29, followed a week later by "mega Tuesday" on Feb. 5. That's when two dozen states, including Giuliani-friendly New York, New Jersey and California, go to the polls.
"Whoever wins 15 to 18 primaries between now and Feb. 5 is the nominee," Giuliani said. He has ramped up his efforts in New Hampshire but focuses less on the earliest contests than any other Republican.
In such a volatile and unpredictable primary election, long-held political assumptions are getting tossed aside almost weekly. About the only thing still certain is that Giuliani's No. 1 target - Florida - will be crucial in determining the Republican nominee.
"The fact that it doesn't appear that there's any current strong front-runner increases the likelihood that Florida's going to play an even larger role this year than we might have expected," said Justin Sayfie, a former Jeb Bush aide and GOP fundraiser from Broward County who is neutral in this primary.
"The best case for Giuliani is for Huckabee to win in Iowa, Romney to win in New Hampshire, and to have no candidate with clear momentum in front of him when it comes to Florida," said David Johnson, former executive director of the Florida Republican Party.
"Florida becomes incredibly important," he said.
That is the Giuliani strategy. But he's not the only Republican working hard to win Florida.
Romney and Fred Thompson are building campaign organizations here, too, though Thompson's visibility in Florida has dropped as his campaign lags. Romney, meanwhile, maintains a steady, if light, presence on TV in Florida, where he has a formidable campaign in place.
"It's no coincidence that Rudy Giuliani chooses Florida to deliver this speech, and it's no coincidence that Mitt Romney's been in this state 18 times," said Sally Bradshaw, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign.
Giuliani, 63, spoke Saturday in Tampa and Jacksonville, two areas where the Romney campaign is aggressively working to counteract Giuliani's advantages in South Florida.
The former New York mayor has endured a slew of negative publicity lately on everything from his refusal to disclose his consulting firm's client list, to revelations that New York taxpayers funded security details for his mistress, to the fraud indictment of former New York City police Chief Bernie Kerik - Giuliani's friend and business partner.
Giuliani's campaign hyped Saturday's speech as a major turning point leading up to game day, but he offered up little that was bold or unpredictable. Amid periodic chants of "Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!" and theme music to the football movieRudy, the hero of Sept. 11 offered familiar assurances that he can respond under fire.
"I've faced adversity before, I've led in situations that seemed hopeless and dire," Giuliani said. "In need of a miracle, I don't just pray for miracles, I don't just hope for miracles, I expect miracles."