The past few weeks have not been kind to Rudy Giuliani. After touching down in Florida after the New Hampshire primary, he watched as his once commanding lead in the state disappeared, leaving him two points behind John McCain—a slip Giuliani initially believed he could make up. But despite vigorous campaigning throughout the state—Giuliani has spent 50-plus days crisscrossing Florida—polls here never turned around. Instead, they continued to dip lower and lower. Yesterday a Zogby poll put him in fourth place behind McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Less than 24 hours before the voting booths open, Giuliani finds himself floundering in a state that he still insists is "Rudy Country."
The state's governor apparently doesn't agree. Florida's popular Republican Gov. Charlie Crist endorsed McCain on Saturday. The endorsement clearly caught the Giuliani campaign off guard. In early January invitations went out for Orange County's GOP Lincoln Day Dinner, promising remarks by Giuliani and a "special appearance" by Crist. But on Saturday night only Giuliani showed up. And while Crist did attend a Lincoln Day Dinner, it wasn't Rudy Giuliani's: the governor spent Saturday night in Pinellas County with McCain. Giuliani's communications director, Katie Levinson, says Crist's decision to back McCain won't affect Rudy's standing. "At the end of the day," Levinson says, "people will make a choice based on the candidate. The people of Florida will pick the best of the candidates."
The question now is whether or not Floridians see Giuliani as that man. Polls clearly suggest otherwise, and even his supporters seem skeptical. "I feel bad for him," says Lillian Golio, a resident of Vero Beach. Golio, who already voted for Giuliani via absentee ballot, is originally from Manhattan and doesn't think native Floridians can appreciate Giuliani's appeal. "I really feel bad. New Yorkers know all the good he did for New York, but it's not translating down here. I think his approach was wrong."
In the final push, Giuliani's approach has changed. A little. He's spending less time talking tough on terror and more time playing political referee, tsk-tsking McCain and Romney for taking shots at one another. "I'm sick and tired of this negative campaigning. I'm sick and tired of all this name-calling," he said at a rally in Fort Meyers. Earlier that day he lamented the way his fellow Republicans are "attacking one another" and called upon Florida "to send a message that the kind of candidate, the kind of president you want, will follow a positive campaign."
But the most noticeable change in the campaign has been his increased attention to the press. A funny thing happened on the way to Orlando's Hard Rock Hotel last night. Giuliani, notoriously distant with his traveling press corps, made a rare appearance—one of a handful throughout the entire primary season—on his campaign media van.
"Hi, guys," he said almost sheepishly, grasping hands (but avoiding eye contact) as he made his way through the media reception line. At first no one moved. The journalists, not quite sure what to make of the unexpected appearance, hesitated before grabbing their tape recorders and forming a cramped gaggle. Unlike reporters following Sen. John McCain—who joke that they can't shut the guy up—those trailing Giuliani have had to fight for every sound bite. He's so detached from the press corps that one embedded journalist who has been following the campaign for months says Giuliani still mistakes him for a voter at campaign events, and will reach out to shake the journalist's hand as he exits a venue.
As Giuliani stood on the bus last night and offered himself up for questions, reporters scrambled. Was he going to address the flagging poll numbers? The success (or lack thereof) of his Florida-heavy strategy? Gov. Crist's disappointing McCain endorsement? Actually, Giuliani answered only one question. It was about his expectations for Super Tuesday. For the time being, Giuliani said, the campaign is focused solely on Florida, which holds its primary in less than 24 hours. "January 29," he said, forcing a grin, "That's our day, January 29." Then, "We'll see you later." And he was gone.