Giuliani Betting the House — the White House — on the Florida Primary

The 2020 U.S. presidential election: HLS faculty and scholars weigh in -  Harvard Law Today

The 2020 U.S. presidential election: HLS faculty and scholars weigh in -  Harvard Law TodayWhat a difference a few months make. On the campaign trail, you could actually say weeks or even days make a difference. A year ago it would have been safe to say that the general election was going to be a voting slugfest to the final count between ex-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Senator Hillary Clinton. According to recent polls, the senator is losing ground and the ex-mayor may not win even one primary.

It does not look good for Rudy Giuliani in the Florida Primary. According to a Rasmussen Poll taken in mid-July last year, Guiliani was 9 percentage points ahead of both Arizona senator John McCain and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (22, 13, 13). Three weeks later, the ex-mayor would enjoy his largest lead in the Florida polls, surging well ahead of Mitt Romney and watching as John McCain reached almost his lowest point in the polls (30, 15, 7, respectively). By December, as the media touted of the important upcoming Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary, Giuliani, who decided not to campaign in either state, began to slip, falling behind Romney, 23% -19$ (McCain would be at his lowest in mid-December, with only 6%). But by January 9, Rasmussen would poll a resurgent Senator McCain, fresh from a win in New Hampshire, one percentage point ahead of his two closest rivals. Today, Rasmussen has McCain and Romney in a dead heat for the Florida Republican vote with 31 % of the Republican Primary vote and Rudy Giuliani a distant third with 16%.

How in the world did that happen? Several factors seem to have come together to give McCain his momentum, Romney his steady growing numbers, and Giuliani his consistently falling points. One was that Giuliani came off as arrogant when he decided not to campaign in the smaller primary and caucus states, focusing on Florida and states with high delegate counts. As a result, he finished poorly in the contests leading up to Florida. McCain just steadily plugged his message. Romney did the same. Occasionally McCain and Romney would take time to take shots at each other and now seem to do it as a matter of course.

Another factor was former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s surprising win in the Republican Iowa Caucus. It brought another element into the Republican fray that had seemed to lie dormant until Iowa – the Christian factor. Huckabee is an evangelical and a former minister. Giuliani is pro choice when it comes to abortion, sees nothing wrong with domestic partnerships, and was responsible for major New York City anti-firearms legislation while he was mayor — and these get him in trouble with evangelicals in particular, conservatives in general.

And then there is the factor of Giuliani’s bad press in the last few months. His fallout with his alleged estranged son. His daughter posting her support for Illinois Senator Barack Obama, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, on a website. His three highly publicized marriages and two divorces have tarnished him slightly. And the neverending onslaught from pundits, comedians, reporters and tabloids on his personal life and his constant use of September 11 (he was major of New York City on that fateful day, his strong response leading to the nickname “America’s mayor”) as a political pitch has been troublesome.

Giuliani was open about his strategy to win the Republican nomination for president. He stated a month ago that he would concentrate on the larger states and bet his chances on Florida. Even when he began slipping in the polls – and three of his opponents began to rise dramatically – he made only token appearances in the other primary and caucus states, if at all. And this may have been a mistake. Many saw his focus on the “big picture” of the general election as a blatant dismissal of the smaller states and their delegates – and it showed at the voting polls. Giuliani finished behind most of the Republican field in South Carolina, Nevada, and Michigan.

Florida has become an all or nothing gamble for Rudy Giuliani. By no means does a losss in Florida mean that Giuliani has to drop out of contention, but a third-place finish would be damaging to his chances for nomination. By ignoring the other states running up to the Florida Primary, however, he may find that betting the White House to win on a race in Florida may not have been the best strategy.

Henry Adams