Giuliani expected to drop out

A strategy of banking his presidential bid on winning Floridabackfired, a political scientist says. He'll endorse McCain.

By DAVID DECAMP, Times Staff Writer
Published January 30, 2008

ORLANDO - Rudy Giuliani went for it all in Florida only to come in third Tuesday, effectively killing his presidential ambitions. Republican officials said he would drop out today and endorse Sen. John McCain.

He skipped every other early Republican contest to win this state and paid for it with his chance at the nomination. Although Giuliani did not say he was quitting Tuesday night, he drifted into the past tense during his concession speech to more than 100 supporters in a half-filled hotel ballroom in Orlando.

"Leaders dream of a better future and then they help to bring it into a reality," he said. "That capability of leadership doesn't end with a single campaign. If you believe in a cause, it goes on and you continue to fight for it."

Giuliani banked on acclaim for stewarding New York through the 9/11 attacks as mayor. But the campaign calendar crushed his unorthodox strategy - dramatically.

In November, Giuliani easily led most polls in Florida. But over the months, the lead slipped.

"It'll give political historians food for thought for a long time about what happened," political scientist Aubrey Jewett of the University of Central Florida said of Giuliani's "backfired" strategy.

Banking on his celebrity in a big state, Giuliani avoided Iowa, Michigan and South Carolina and abandoned New Hampshire's primary, repeatedly finishing those contests near the bottom.

But Giuliani lost voters' attention to rivals - despite consistently airing ads in Florida and spending 58 days in the state, including every day the final 2 1/2 weeks.

The more voters saw him, however, the less they wanted to vote for him. Meanwhile, support grew for McCain and Mitt Romney as they won states in the run-up to Florida's vote. More than one voter at Giuliani events in the past week was skeptical of the all-in strategy.

"We were kind of disappointed he ran his campaign without having had attempts with Iowa or New Hampshire," said George Schmidt, 71, in Vero Beach last weekend.

And it was clear Giuliani's emphasis on early voting during his Florida stays did not turn into nearly enough ballots marked for him.

McCain, who revived a bid that was written off in the summer, particularly stung Giuliani. McCain attracted moderate voters who might have supported Giuliani, and he drew the endorsements of Florida's top Republican leaders, Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez.

It was particularly damaging in South Florida, where polls showed Giuliani gave up a large lead. Giuliani counted on heavy support from Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which have a lot of northeastern transplants, Hispanics and other moderate GOP voters.

Giuliani's liberal social views - pro-abortion rights and a history of gun control support - made socially conservative North Florida difficult, too.

"It wasn't his record as much as it was all his issues - where he stood on policy," said Brett Doster, who ran President Bush's re-election campaign in Florida in 2004.

When the flagging economy emerged as the top campaign issue, Giuliani promised big tax cuts and a one-page tax return, plus a national catastrophe fund for lower insurance. But he had spent years cultivating a persona based on a hearty national defense from terrorism, repeatedly warning voters of the threat.

"You'd like to think it would be well received, but it wasn't. I think voters sometimes have a fixed image of a candidate," Jewett said.

Even his national security emphasis failed to sway voters, who gave Romney essentially the same support in exit polls, if not better.

On Tuesday, Giuliani visited a Miami Beach diner and deflected reporters' questions about his future. He later tossed a baseball outside his Broward headquarters before trying to cheer volunteers. But his fate in Florida's primary was not lost by others.

"The biggest, most exciting moment for the Giuliani campaign is he finally beat Ron Paul," Doster said.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or 727 869-6232.