Rudy Giuliani buzzed through the voter-rich central corridor of Florida yesterday from Sarasota on the Gulf Coast to Orlando, in an increasingly forlorn effort to stave off political humiliation in the Republican primary election here on Tuesday. Most polls showed him struggling even to make third place.
With rivals John McCain and Mitt Romney stealing most of the oxygen in the fiercely fought contest, the former New York mayor found himself defending his decision to bet the farm on Florida while largely ignoring earlier primary elections in states such as New Hampshire and Michigan. "Unconventional approaches to things are the only way to change something," he told a Republican dinner late on Friday. "This is an unconventional election. I am an unconventional candidate. If I was a conventional candidate, New York City would look the way it did back in 1990."
Until recently, Mr Giuliani had a huge lead here. His best last hope may be the significant numbers of Floridians who have taken advantage of rules allowing them to vote far in advance of polling day, particularly if they did so before his free-fall began to hit the headlines.
Hungry for a front-runner to emerge, Republicans nationally are, however, directing their attention to Mr McCain and Mr Romney. Both men urgently need a win in the sunshine state to propel them forward to "Super Tuesday" on 5 February.
And both are this weekend turning their sights on one another. Mr Romney, who founded a successful venture capital fund before becoming Governor of Massachusetts, questioned Mr McCain's credentials for fixing an increasingly fragile economy, portraying him as a stale Washington insider. Mr McCain was withering in his response. "Running an investment company is probably a good thing to do," he said. "Making national policy concerning the national economy is probably more beneficial to the nation. Americans want leaders; they don't want managers. I can hire all the managers I need."
The endorsement of Mr McCain by The New York Times prompted the Romney campaign to release a web video ad yesterday, mocking the Arizona senator as an ally of liberals and Democrats. Mr McCain may not have been helped, meanwhile, by Bill Clinton, who spoke of his wife's affection for her fellow senator. "She and John McCain are very close," he said.
Mr McCain yesterday touted new endorsements, both from members of the Republican National Committee and from Florida senator Mel Martinez, a Cuban-American born in Cuba. The latter may be vital in snaring support from the Latin community.
The emergence of the economy as the dominant issue may in the end give a winning edge to Mr Romney, however. "He's on a roll," said David Johnson, a Republican strategist here. "He's got the best organisation and best resources in place to keep going even after Florida."
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