Romney Camp Claims Giuliani Is No Longer GOP Favorite

Former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.), a prospective GOP presidential candidate, reacts to a sign reading
Former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.), a prospective GOP presidential candidate, reacts to a sign reading "Get on the FredExpress, Fred Thompson for President." (By Brett Flashnick -- Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Who's the real front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination?

A new memo penned by Alex Gage, a senior strategist for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, argues that his boss, not former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, deserves the distinction.

"Rudy Giuliani continues to lead the Republican field as he has since polling on the race began last year," writes Gage in a document dated July 20. "However, Giuliani's support began to ebb in February and has slipped 2-3 points per month since then."

As evidence, Gage points to a compilation of national polls done by Charles Franklin, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, that seems to show similar negative trend lines in national polls for both Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) (For what it's worth, the Giuliani operation pushed back hard on Franklin's comparison; "The Giuliani campaign is in a very strong position at this point and is clearly best-positioned to win the primary," director of strategy Brent Seaborn wrote in a direct rebuttal to Franklin's argument.) Even if you grant that Giuliani's slippage in national surveys has stabilized, Gage says, there is ample evidence in polling conducted in early voting states that it is Romney, not Hizzoner, who is in the best position.

Giuliani "is now trailing in four of the five key states that fall before Feb. 5," Gage writes. The memo goes on to note that the average of public polls conducted in June and July show Romney leading comfortably in Iowa and New Hampshire and more narrowly in Nevada. Former senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) leads the way in South Carolina, while Giuliani is a strong first choice only in Florida.

The former mayor is shifting from a Feb. 5 strategy aimed at running the table of large states set to vote that day to a more traditional approach of lavishing attention on places such as Iowa and New Hampshire, Gage says, pointing out that in the past week alone, Giuliani had eight events scheduled for Iowa.

The Gage memo is the first full-frontal assault on Giuliani by Romney's campaign and reflects the way in which the field has changed since the rise of Thompson and fall of McCain.

Romney and McCain spent much of the first six months of the year in a largely behind-the-scenes battle. With McCain effectively hobbled -- for now, at least -- the race looks like a three-way contest between Romney, Giuliani and Thompson.

With this memo, Romney is clearly making a play at front-runner status, figuring that if he can establish himself atop the heap, Thompson and Giuliani will fight it out for the chance to be one of the last two standing. Gage asserts that Thompson and Giuliani "may be competing for the same pool of voters" judging by Thompson's ascent in the polls, and he adds a line from Romney media consultant Alex Castellanos: "If Rudy is the tough mayor of New York, Fred is the guy they would hire to play Rudy on TV."

Zing! Over to you, Mr. Mayor.

Swapping One Warner for Another?

Former governor Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) has begun to talk seriously with friends, past aides and potential future advisers about his political plans and is expected to announce his intentions in September, shortly after Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) makes public whether he will run for reelection.

One Virginia Democrat said there is a "95 percent" likelihood Mark Warner will either run for Senate in 2008 or governor in 2009. If John Warner decides to stick around for a sixth term, Mark Warner would probably turn his attentions to the open-seat gubernatorial race. (Virginia governors cannot serve consecutive terms.) If John Warner steps aside, a Senate bid is more likely, though not certain, the source said. Expect a decision from Mark Warner soon after John Warner has made clear his plans, the source added.

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