It appears that Rudy has finally decided to climb into the ring and throw a few punches. After the weekend contests clarified the competition, the Giuliani campaign published its first significant attack on another Republican candidate. The latest Rasmussen polling suggests he may have to punch in two directions.
First, the latest poll shows a three-man race in Florida, with all three in the hunt but Mitt Romney surprisingly in the lead:
It’s Romney at 25%, McCain at 20%, and Giuliani at 19%. Romney has picked up seven points over the past week while McCain and Giuliani each inched up a point.
Last week, before the Michigan and South Carolina Primaries, Rasmussen Reports polling found essentially a four-way tie for the lead in Florida. However, Mike Huckabee has slipped to 13% in the current poll. A week ago, he was the top choice for 17%.
Clearly, the close second in South Carolina didn’t help Mike Huckabee. Indeed, it appears to have pushed him out of contention in the Sunshine State. His populist message probably didn’t help matters, either. While he may have some strength in the panhandle, the Huckabee win in Iowa appears to have been not so much a fluke but another example of Iowan populism that translates poorly just about everywhere else.
Only six points separate the top three candidates in Florida. In order to win the state, Rudy has to start differentiating himself from Romney and McCain. He’s already started that process with this broadside against McCain’s credentials as a conservative:
Rudy Giuliani is the only fiscal conservative in the race and it’s easy to see why. John McCain not only voted with the Democrats against the Bush tax cuts twice, he’s voted over 50 times for higher taxes. With a record like that, you can’t tell if John McCain will stand up to the Democrats in Washington who want to raise taxes or stand with them.
That will leave a mark, and it points up the problem with legislators running for Congress. They often have to cast compromise votes — getting something while giving something else. I don’t know the context of these votes, or whether any of them fall within that description. I do know that casting dozens of votes for tax increases makes it difficult to wear the mantle of a small-government tax cutter.
I’ll assume we’ll start to see television commercials on this subject in Florida, and most likely on the Internet as well. If he can make these criticisms stick, he could gain some traction against McCain, potentially enough to vault over Romney as well. Expect this to turn into a one-week race that will leave no stones unturned for any of these three candidates.