Do or die for Guiliani tonight

01/24/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Two new polls show the Florida GOP presidential primary Tuesday is too close to call, and tonight’s nationally televised debate from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton could have a decisive impact on next week’s winner.

A Strategic Visions Poll released this morning shows John McCain leading with 25 percent of the vote, Rudy Guiliani is second with 22 percent, Mitt Romney at 20 percent and Mike Huckabee at 18 percent. That contrasts with a St. Pete Times/Miami Herald poll released last night that shows McCain and Romney in a tight battle.

During the debate, candidates will have no opening or closing statements. They will be allowed in one portion to question one another. They will have 90 seconds to respond to questions and 30 seconds to make rebuttals at the discretion of the moderator, Brian Williams.

The questions will come from Williams and Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press, and St. Pete Times publisher Paul Tash. Leadership Florida, one of the debate sponsors, has passed along questions that were solicited from the public through its Web site.

No candidate has more on the line Tuesday, or perhaps tonight, than former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani, who seems to be dropping in the polls daily.

In 2007, Guiliani led most national and state polls as the leading candidate, until the last few weeks of the year. But being out of the limelight during this first month of primaries and caucuses has damaged him mightily.

USF St. Petersburg Professor Daryl Paulson is a Republican who had supported Guiliani in next week’s primary. But he says that Guiliani’s strategy in banking on Florida to catapult him into Super Tuesday’s 22 primaries on Feb. 5 has proved so dubious.

Many national pundits have been skeptical of the Guiliani strategy of bypassing Iowa and downplaying New Hampshire and the other states in order to take Florida. Guiliani’s strategy has been predicated on the state being "moderate," and thus would be warm to his pro-choice, pro-gay rights ideology. He is also counting on support from the large number of New York and New Jersey expatriats.

But the strategy looks bad right now. Not only has Guiliani lost his lead in Florida, but also, in New York and New Jersey, his supposed home field advantage areas.

But a victory or strong second-place finish could still propel Guiliani right back up next Tuesday. But USF St. Petersburg Political Scientist Daryl Paulson remains skeptical.

Guiliani has based his appeal on being the candidate who can best deal with the threat of terrorism. But by being out of the spotlight, he seems to be losing those voters to John McCain. It was McCain who was considered to be a dead man walking just a few months ago, not Giuliani.

But just as there had been questions about Guiliani’s conservativism, so has there been about McCain’s. His stances on global warming, illegal immigration and campaign finance reform have alienated many conservatives.

But his unflagging support for the Iraq war has proved to be a boon for the Arizona senator.

McCain is a Washington veteran who is 71 years old. That prompted Mike Huckabee supporter, actor Chuck Norris, to say earlier this week that McCain was simply too old to be president.

Paulson disagrees.

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