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A LOSING GAMBLE

For Giuliani, the Trip South Started Early

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Presidential candidate former mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-N.Y.) addresses his supporters after the Florida primary election results filter in. Video by AP

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By Michael Leahy and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

In presidential politics, a candidate's irrelevance immediately precedes his annihilation.

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Rudolph W. Giuliani's creeping irrelevance in the Republican race for the White House began to be felt, fatally, 10 days before the Florida primary. Few in his tepid crowds seemed even to know that, by then, the man once regarded as the front-runner for the party's nomination had already been campaigning in the state for seven weeks.

"Mayor, how do you like being back campaigning in Florida?" he was asked welcomingly after a Saturday afternoon speech in a central-state retirement community called the Villages. Giuliani winced. "I'm not back in Florida," he said, laughing wanly. "I've been here for quite some time."

Giuliani had been mostly forgotten. It was a consequence less of any loss than of his campaign's decision to settle in Florida to await a high-profile fight with his chief foes. But irrelevance felled him before the foes ever arrived. The strategy was always a do-or-die gamble, complicated by a sobering reality: No one has ever captured a presidential nomination after going winless in a race's first six primaries and caucuses, as Giuliani has done.

Last night, the campaign's bet turned into a bust. The former New York mayor's distant finish left his candidacy in free fall, his prospects dimmer than ever in the upcoming 21-state GOP contests next Tuesday. He is expected to drop out of the race and endorse John McCain, perhaps as early as today.

The Florida strategy was born of desperation, the result of a growing realization that the candidate atop every national poll last winter was not winning over voters in the states he needed to catapult his campaign. According to numerous sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they have close relationships with the campaign, the effort began bogging down early, as strategists struggled to find a state where Giuliani could win.

In September, top Giuliani strategists met in a boardroom at the Marriott Marquis, in New York's Times Square, to discuss the deteriorating situation in Iowa, where the first votes would be counted four months later. Campaign manager Mike DuHaime was there, along with senior adviser Tony Carbonetti, communication director Katie Levinson, strategy director Brent Seaborn and Giuliani pollster Ed Goeas. They discussed how they had run radio ads and begun an aggressive mail campaign, touting Giuliani's New York accomplishments. Nothing was working.

Florida, they decided, with a more moderate electorate, an abundance of retired New Yorkers and other Easterners, seemed like the solution -- the big win that would propel the campaign into Super Tuesday a week later. But they worried about former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. If he won Iowa, New Hampshire and then Michigan, he might be unstoppable. So they refined their strategy: Take on Romney in New Hampshire, and make their move in Florida.

But somehow the focus just wasn't there. Giuliani kept traveling the country rather than staying put in New Hampshire, as McCain was doing. "We said we needed the candidate more," an organizer recalls informing Giuliani's national campaign organization in New York, only to be told, he said, that fundraising and strategic considerations dictated different priorities. "There are always competing interests for the candidate's time and [for] money," DuHaime said. "There is never enough time for both. We followed the path that we thought was best."

But by December, when the high command gathered again at the Marriott Marquis, it was obvious that they weren't going to win New Hampshire, either. They were going to have to bet everything on Florida.

Quitting Iowa

The original idea had been a "national strategy" to prove that Giuliani was the most electable in the Republican field because he could compete in places that candidates from his party had traditionally abandoned, such as New York. But the high poll numbers that he received from the time he announced his candidacy early last year didn't reflect the antipathy he would encounter from conservatives, especially in Iowa, and his staff didn't seem to understand it.


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