Rudy Giuliani Counts on the Sunshine State

While all of the other Republican presidential candidates campaigned in Iowa and New Hampshire, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani dedicated himself to Florida.

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Just a few months ago, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani was considered to be the frontrunner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. He did finish sixth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire - but he barely campaigned there. He seems to be putting all of his hopes for change, if you please, in the first big state holding a primary: Florida, January 29th.

Ask NPR's Greg Allen to find out how the mayor is doing.

GREG ALLEN: For Rudy Giuliani, Florida is a friendly place, especially in the southern part of the state, there are a lot of former New Yorkers, people like Tim Hale(ph). He moved to Coral Springs 18 years ago, but still thinks highly of what Giuliani accomplished as New York mayor. And Hale says, for him, there's one issue that's most important.

Mr. TIM HALE: National security, and that's why I do like Rudy. He did a great job and, you know, we had - Mohamed Atta lived here, blocks away.

ALLEN: 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta did, for a time, rent an apartment in Coral Springs. And because of the state's history with hurricanes, Floridians are more concerned about emergency preparedness than voters in some other states. For those and other reasons, polls have given Rudy Giuliani a big lead in Florida.

In recent weeks, though, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Arizona Senator John McCain have began to challenge that lead. So this week, while Huckabee and McCain have concentrated on South Carolina's GOP primary on January 19th and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has been looking to Tuesday's Michigan caucuses, Giuliani has been looking farther down the road.

Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Republican Mayor, New York; Republican Presidential Candidate): There's only 18 days until your big primary here in Florida and we want to make sure that Florida counts.

ALLEN: When he was the frontrunner, for Giuliani, Florida was his firewall, the state where he'd show his popularity. Increasingly, though, as he's dropped in national polls and as he waits for his first win, Florida is beginning to look like his last chance. This week, the Giuliani campaign began running an ad statewide with a clear message to voters in the Sunshine State: Don't be swayed by what's happened in earlier primaries and caucuses.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man: The media loves process. Talking heads love chatter. But Florida has a chance to turn down the noise, and show the world that leadership is what really matters.

ALLEN: Giuliani's Florida ad campaign is reportedly costing some $600,000, and it comes at a time when his resources appear to be running thin. This week, many of his campaign staff voluntarily agreed to forgo paychecks. Giuliani said it was to make sure there was enough money to pay for all the airtime his campaign needs in Florida. At a campaign event yesterday, he was asked if he'll have anything left after Florida.

Mr. GIULIANI: Yeah, we'll have some. But frankly, you know, Florida is really important to us, so we're going to put if not everything into Florida, almost everything.

ALLEN: This week, Giuliani is crisscrossing the Sunshine State. Yesterday, he was in Coral Springs, north of Fort Lauderdale, for a campaign event at a highly rated charter school. He talked about education and his strong support for charter schools and vouchers. He also discussed his tax-cut plan unveiled this week, which he said would stimulate the economy. But this being in Florida, he also brought up an issue as popular here as ethanol is in Iowa - a proposal for national catastrophe fund that would help lower insurance rates for homeowners.

Mr. GIULIANI: The federal government has to be a backstop for making sure that people have insurance. The risk has to be apportioned properly. The risk has to be apportioned fairly. But the federal government has to make sure that if there's this once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe or a once-in-a-decade catastrophe that we're helping each other.

ALLEN: Today, Giuliani is holding campaign events on Florida's Gulf Coast before kicking off a three-day bus tour that begins Sunday in Miami. But he'll soon have company. After South Carolina, both the Huckabee and McCain campaigns say they're headed to Florida.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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