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For Giuliani, Missed Greetings -- and Chances

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Republican presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani answers questions about his campaign strategy in Florida and super Tuesday at the Jacksonville International Airport. Video by Chet Rhodes/washingtonpost.com

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By Michael Leahy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2008

CAPE CANAVERAL -- Wayne Pennington thought it would be a privilege to help out the other day when Rudolph W. Giuliani visited the hotel where he works as an auditor. With darkness falling, Pennington watched the flashing lights of the motorcade as he waited outside for the former New York mayor, the Republican Party's leading presidential candidate for much of last year, to emerge from the hotel.

A GOP voter trying to decide on a candidate before the Florida primary, Pennington knows Giuliani best as a leader made famous in the crucible of Sept. 11, 2001. "I'm open-minded," he said. "I'll take a look at every good Republican."

Doors suddenly opened and, amid a phalanx of guards, Giuliani came bounding toward his car. His path took him straight toward the group of hotel workers, where Pennington waited expectantly. He had his hand ready, but the candidate shook it so quickly that it was more like a half-tug as he wordlessly climbed into the back seat of a car.

"It won't be Giuliani," Pennington said later when asked about his choice for the primary. He said he hadn't been offended by the rote handshake. But the fleeting encounter did nothing to attract him, either. "No talk, really. Nothing happened, no. But I don't think he was going to get my vote anyway. He's just running on 9/11, I think. Still haven't made up my mind. . . . Maybe Huckabee. I kind of like him. He's out there around people. Seems honest, friendly."

Presidential primaries are fought in two dimensions -- across the vast reach of television, and in that intimate space as small as a man's hand, or as tight as a burly hug. Opportunities for votes are seized, or squandered. For Giuliani, they have mainly been squandered. The former front-runner finds himself fighting for what most observers in Florida view as his survival.

Giuliani effectively sat out the early primaries to concentrate on Florida, and he says he will win the state's primary on Tuesday. Last weekend, he vowed more than once that the victor here will get the Republican nomination, which, in terms of logic, suggests that at least one loser in Florida will be finished. Twenty-four hours after Giuliani's guarantee, in the wake of polls showing him trailing a surging John McCain and Mitt Romney, his aides said that merely a strong showing would enable him to fight on.

While it's too early to write Giuliani's campaign obituary, it's not hard to see his weaknesses as a candidate. He seems constitutionally resistant to lengthy sessions of flesh-pressing and to uncontrolled campaign dialogue. He favors long, discursive speeches and generally limits questions to a handful, when he takes questions at all. Contact is across a rope line, generally -- except when he must walk across a room to an exit, where bodyguards keep the curious at bay with deftly placed forearms, if necessary.

In New Hampshire, where Giuliani led in the polls early and then collapsed by December, one of the former mayor's appearances ended when aides asked attendees to remain in their seats so he could quickly leave the building and get to his next stop.

"I couldn't figure out what he was doing," said Andrew Smith, director of the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire, who was there. "Was there some kind of security consideration? Did he fear that some old Rotarian lady had a butter knife? That kind of thing really hurt him here."

But nothing about Giuliani's campaign style has changed much since his slide became precipitous. He still wears his dark power suits and ties, resisting crew-neck sweaters, windbreakers and fleece. He rides to most campaign stops in his motorcade, led by a black Cadillac Escalade with flashing red lights and, in Florida, trailed by a law enforcement vehicle -- the candidate nestled in a car between many others -- his security people jumping out at stops and pirouetting.

McCain's early support of the troop increase in Iraq under Gen. David H. Petraeus, and a concomitant decline in levels of insurgent attacks there, have for the moment at least taken the war off the table as a hotly discussed topic in the Republican race, blunting any effort by the Giuliani camp to use national security as a winning issue.

David Dreier, a Republican congressman from California and a Giuliani supporter, observed wryly: "I heard somebody say that Rudy's worst enemy might be David Petraeus. Might be true. . . . McCain has done pretty well with that."


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