November 28, 2007

Florida Firewall Holding

Rudy Giuliani will likely have home-field advantage in tonight's CNN/YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, as Florida's Republicans have maintained their support for the GOP national front-runner. Rudy has a commanding lead in the Sunshine State, considered his firewall against a potential domino effect for Mitt Romney if Iowa and New Hampshire go to the former Massachusetts governor:

If the Florida Republican primary were held today, the former New York City mayor would finish on top with the support of 38 percent of likely primary voters, according to the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

That's 21 points ahead of his closest rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who got 17 percent. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee are tied at 11 percent.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is at 9 percent in the survey, followed by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas at 5 percent, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California at 1 percent and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado at less than 1 percent.

Thanks to the shuffle of primaries this year, Florida will play a pivotal role for Giuliani. If Romney wins the first two contests, he can rightfully claim some momentum, but only a handful of delegates. Rudy leads in Michigan and Nevada, the next two states, and Michigan is significant for both delegates and credibility, since Romney's family has deep ties to the state. But Florida will be a key general-election state, one the Republicans have to keep in their column in 2008.

Republican voters will pick up on this in the following primaries. Voters in California and New York on February 5th will incline towards Rudy for the same reasons Floridians do now -- for his more centrist stances on social issues. Having won Florida and perhaps Michigan by that time, Rudy can easily shake off losses in Iowa and New Hampshire and jump to a commanding lead for the nomination. Even more, Giuliani can argue that big wins in the coastal states gives Republicans an opportunity unseen in two decades -- a chance to force Democrats to spend money in traditionally blue states, which not only helps Republicans in the presidential race but down-ticket as well.

That's the Florida firewall strategy, and so far, it seems to be working. Giuliani advisor Bill Paxon told me yesterday on Heading Right Radio that Rudy has a 50-state strategy, and among all of the GOP candidates, his has been the broadest -- but he has not seriously campaigned in Iowa at all. A loss in New Hampshire would sting more, as Rudy has put more time into that effort, but clearly the Giuliani team sees the new primary schedule as an opportunity to limit the impact of the first two contests -- and their chances look good for success.


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