- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2008

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Florida now appears to be a two-way race between Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain, as two new polls show Rudolph W. Giuliani losing support after skipping six straight presidential-nomination contests.

Photos: Giuliani, McCain on the Florida trail

Just 48 hours before the Florida primary, the former Massachusetts governor and the senator from Arizona are deadlocked at 30 percent, according a Reuters-CSPAN-Zogby poll released yesterday. Another poll, by Rasmussen Reports, showed Mr. Romney up by six percentage points over Mr. McCain.

But both polls show the former New York City mayor unable to reignite his campaign. The Zogby poll showed Mr. Giuliani slumping to fourth place — one point behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — at 13 percent, down two points from its last poll. The Rasmussen poll put Mr. Giuliani at 14 percent.

“Giuliani is becoming less of a factor in Florida,” pollster John Zogby said. “This is a two-man race: It’s all coming down to McCain versus Romney.”

Mr. Giuliani’s campaign embarked on a risky strategy of not focusing on the big three early contests — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — and three other smaller contests, to target Florida, where his campaign strategists viewed the electorate as a better fit. The strategy appeared to pay off — three different candidates won among the first six contests and none has been able to break out of the pack.

But the former mayor did not foresee plummeting in the national polls, which he led for months, and all but disappearing from media reports about the Republican race.

“It’s clear that his support is sinking, and he’s being crowded out by two men who have already won primaries,” Mr. Zogby said. “The best you can say about his strategy is that it was risky, and the worst you can say is that it was foolish.”

Mr. Giuliani defended his strategy on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” but sidestepped a question about whether he would drop out if he lost, having pinned so much on a win in the state. “We’re going to win in Florida,” he said. “We have been campaigning here very steadily since the early voting began. There’s been an unprecedented, I believe, amount of early voting, so, I think we’re going to do very well here.”

Mr. Zogby said his latest poll takes into account early voting.

The two front-runners, meanwhile, have been locked in a battle to win over Republicans because the primary will be closed, the first such contest that will not allow independents or Democrats to cast ballots. Mr. McCain won New Hampshire and South Carolina among conservatives, according to most exit polls, but Mr. Romney took more conservatives in his home state of Michigan.

Mr. Romney now holds leads among Republican voters who describe themselves as conservative or very conservative, the Zogby poll found, while Mr. McCain has an edge among Florida moderates. The poll put Mr. Romney ahead 41 percent to 19 percent among the very conservative, but Mr. McCain ahead 42 percent to 17 percent among moderates. However, the gap narrowed to six percentage points for “conservative” voters, with Mr. Romney commanding 34 percent support to Mr. McCain’s 28 percent.

“Romney is ticking up a bit, and he’s getting strong support from conservatives,” Mr. Zogby said. Another reason is the economy, which is Mr. Romney’s strong suit. The poll found the issue top among likely voters, at 39 percent. The war on terrorism ranked second at 14 percent, just ahead of the war in Iraq at 12 percent.

Mr. McCain defended his focus on national security, telling reporters in Polk City: “Even if the economy is the, quote, No. 1 issue, the real issue will remain America’s security. And if they choose to say, ‘Look, I do not need this guy, because he’s not as good on home-loan mortgages,’ or whatever it is, I understand about that, I will accept that verdict. I am running because of the transcendental challenge of the 21st century, which is radical Islamic extremism.”

The polls were each taken before Mr. McCain won the belated backing of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Saturday evening. The conservative governor is popular in Florida, and the endorsement may bring a last-minute injection of support for the senator.

The winner in Florida will win 57 Republican delegates — the biggest available so far — and likely carry momentum into the Feb. 5 “Super Tuesday” primaries, when 22 states will have Republican nominating contests.

The Zogby survey, which has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points, was a “rolling” poll of 814 likely Republican voters, taken Thursday through Saturday. In such a poll, the most recent day’s results are added while the oldest day’s results are dropped in order to track changing momentum.

Meanwhile, Mr. Romney courted South Florida’s sizable Hispanic electorate with a rally yesterday in Sweetwater, just outside of Miami.

Wearing a traditional Cuban guayabera shirt he said was given to him by a veteran of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, Mr. Romney spoke of the need for the United States to continue pressure on the island nation’s communist dictator, Fidel Castro.

“When Castro has money, bad things happen, and I have vowed I never would give in to Fidel Castro,” he said, drawing cheers from the 100 supporters gathered at a recreation center, which featured huge Cuban and American flags.

He also pushed his credentials on the economy.

“No one needs to give me a briefing on the economy,” he said. “I won’t need to choose a vice president that understands the economy, because I know the economy.”

Mr. Curl reported from Boca Raton; Mr. Lengell from Sweetwater, Fla.

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