- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2008

Rudolph W. Giuliani, once the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has finished last in five of the first six presidential-nomination contests and tumbled from the top of the national polls, a spot he held unchallenged for months.

His response so far? Sit on the bench, collecting splinters.

After skipping the first half-dozen primaries and caucuses, it’s finally Game Day for the former New York City mayor, and he calls the next battleground — Florida — “our home field.”

“It’s like going down to the fourth quarter: You know you’re a really good fourth-quarter team — you’ve got to score three touchdowns,” he told The Washington Times.

“You know you can do it, but you also know everything’s got to go right for you,” he said with a laugh.

Turning somber, he added: “A loss, and a bad loss, could be crippling.”

Mr. Giuliani’s risky strategy has gone almost exactly according to plan — three candidates have won so far, leaving the field crowded and jumbled. Also, each state to date has been a fight between two or three candidates, and none has been able to build lasting momentum.

“The chaos has helped us make everything go right,” Mr. Giuliani said. “The results in all the other primaries have created a wide-open field, and I think we get some help from that. This is still a very wide-open race.”

His opponents think otherwise. Sen. John McCain, winner of the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, took a swipe at Mr. Giuliani yesterday for his 0-6 record, saying, “If someone hasn’t won a primary, I can understand why they would attack the front-runner.”

Mitt Romney’s campaign said Mr. Giuliani is a day late and a dollar short. “The mayor has just sat on the curb and clapped while every other candidate has gone out there and made a case to voters,” said Kevin Madden, spokesman for the former Massachusetts governor. Mr. Giuliani “has chosen to just pick a date on the calendar in an attempt to make it only about his perceived electability.”

Mr. Giuliani’s strategy will be picked apart by political professors for years. Should he pull off a victory in Florida on Jan. 29 and march on to the nomination, he will be considered a genius, rewriting the playbook for the modern presidential campaign. Massive media coverage — all but absent the past two weeks — will follow, with pundits likely praising his plan.

But should he lose Florida, he could be dismissed quickly as an also-ran, his strategy will be ridiculed and the state’s primary winner, especially if it’s Mr. McCain, will be well-positioned to build momentum going into Feb. 5, when 21 states hold primaries and caucuses.

Mr. Giuliani is, of course, in the first camp. “I think if we win Florida, we get the nomination — simple as that,” he said emphatically.

“Here’s my thinking: This is a new ballgame, and nobody really knows how it plays out. It seems to me that Florida is the gate opener to [February 5th’s] 21 primaries. You cannot possibly carry on a logical campaign in 21 states, no matter how much money you have. So, Florida is going to key a lot of those other states,” he said.

But the former mayor is well aware of history: Since 1980, the winner of the South Carolina primary has gone on to win the Republican nomination. Mr. McCain will have 10 days to solidify his new position atop the national polls.

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