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Chinks Emerge in Giuliani's Firewall Strategy in Fla.

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Chinks Emerge in Giuliani's Firewall Strategy in Fla.

Election 2008

Chinks Emerge in Giuliani's Firewall Strategy in Fla.

Chinks Emerge in Giuliani's Firewall Strategy in Fla.

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In Florida, Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani has counted on a first-place finish to jump-start his campaign just before the Feb. 5 slew of primaries, but Giuliani's fortunes there have begun to reflect the decline he has suffered elsewhere.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Whether Nevada or South Carolina, New Hampshire or Iowa, most of the presidential candidates are focused this week on states with the earliest primaries or caucuses. Not Republican Rudolph Giuliani. He has been down in Florida, where he leads in the polls. Florida votes on January 29th and Giuliani's campaign considers the state his firewall. A big win there might compensate for loses in Iowa and elsewhere.

But, as NPR's Greg Allen reports, that firewall strategy appears increasingly risky.

GREG ALLEN: By his own count, Rudy Giuliani has been to Florida more than two dozen times in the past year. And it's not for the weather. This is a diverse east coast state with large numbers of former New Yorkers. So it's a comfort zone for the former mayor. Today, he was in Orlando. Yesterday, he was in Fort Lauderdale, meeting with military veterans just hours after the assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto.

Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former New York City Mayor; Republican Presidential Candidate): We've had a number of terrorist attacks now that have brought us whether in the United States or the U.K. or other parts of the world - it leads us to the conclusion that we have to remain on offence against terrorism.

ALLEN: That dovetails well with a new ad the Giuliani campaign began running this week in Florida and around the country, extenuating his leadership as mayor on 9/11.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Mr. GIULIANI: And during the day of September 11, living through the things that I saw and observed, immediately when I saw people helping each other, I saw the picture of the firefighters putting the flag up, I said these are the children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the greatest generation.

ALLEN: The ad shows images from World War II and from Ground Zero in New York. At every campaign stop this week in Florida, Giuliani has surrounded himself with veterans and law enforcement officials, emphasizing his experience in dealing with security issues. That's something that carries weight with Floridians. This is the state that takes disaster preparedness seriously. It's also a swing state, with lots of moderate Republican voters, voters, perhaps, less troubled by Giuliani's three marriages or his pro-choice stance on abortion. Winning Florida, Giuliani said yesterday, is important to his strategy to win the Republican nomination.

Mr. GIULIANI: It's important to us, in a large part because it, it takes you into February 5th. And we think whoever wins in Florida is going to have a big advantage on February 5th.

ALLEN: Giuliani's strategy seem plausible when he dominated the Republican field earlier this year, but months later, his standing in national polls has fallen almost by half. And he now runs third or worst in all the state's voting before Florida. What's more, the mayor has seen a new rival emerge in Florida. That's former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister who's received a string of endorsements from conservative Republican officials in this state. Polls now show him challenging Giuliani in Florida, and he's done it without spending the time and resources Giuliani has used here. On a brief stop this week in Miami, Huckabee wouldn't say which campaign he thought had the better strategy.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Republican Presidential Candidate): Well, we'll find out in late January. We knew that we didn't have the resources early on to try to play in all the states. And our strategy was different. It was to do well in the early states, come to Florida with momentum.

ALLEN: The good news for Giuliani is that Huckabee's surge has come mostly at the expense of another Republican, Fred Thompson. But if Giuliani is to hold on here, he'll need to stay in the news over the next four weeks as Republican contest take place in six other mostly snowy states to the north and west.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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