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.
Although Mr. Giuliani said it was "absolutely expected" that he would lose the lead he held for months in national polls as he sat out the first contests, it is unlikely he expected to lose race after race in single digits — he won 3.4 percent in South Carolina, beaten by long-shot candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
The press have ignored him, exposing flaws in the Giuliani team's strategy, said one pollster. "I don't think they envisioned him not being mentioned, and I don't think they envisioned him not being the front-runner in national polls," pollster Scott Rasmussen said.
But, skipping the first six contests has left him flush with cash, Mr. Giuliani said. "I would say, with the exception of Romney, we have the most money," he said.
Mr. Giuliani has spent freely to win Florida, nearly $600,000 on television ads between Dec. 8 and Jan. 6, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
While the crowded field has stalled momentum for any one candidate, Mr. Giuliani has built a head of steam — backwards. His lead in Florida — put at 21 points in November by a Mason-Dixon poll — has evaporated, bringing into doubt the sagacity of his strategy.
His campaign manager, Mike DuHaime, in November led reporters through a numbers game he said foretold the nomination for Mr. Giuliani. Ahead in the polls in 16 of the 21 Feb. 5 states, a win in Florida would vault him to victory as he went on to take such states as New York, New Jersey, California and Illinois, Mr. DuHaime said.
But the 30-point lead Mr. Giuliani enjoyed last month in New Jersey has been erased: A Rasmussen poll on Jan. 15 puts Mr. McCain ahead by two points. A Rasmussen poll released Friday also puts the Arizona senator up in California by 13 points over the former mayor, now running in third.
Mr. Giuliani's lead has disappeared in New York: The latest poll, conducted by SurveyUSA after the New Hampshire primary, shows the mayor statistically tied with Mr. McCain.
Not to worry, Mr. Giuliani said. "All that changes with a strong showing in Florida," he said, adding with a laugh: "Or, if you want to be a pessimist, well, then, it doesn't."
But waiting for the state's primary to kick off his campaign has not been easy, he said.
"I said a long time ago, you'd like to win all the primaries. You'd like to win Iowa, New Hampshire, and [so on], and I said, but even if we don't, if we win Florida, we'll get the nomination, except everybody'll have an ulcer. It will be a nomination won with a campaign staff suffering from ulcers, because it is nerve-racking," he said, laughing.