Can Rudy Still Make It?

Rudy Giuliani says the old rules don't apply. That's why he's focusing on Florida and Feb. 5 states.

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Marc Ambinder of theatlantic.com has obtained and printed a copy of the Giuliani campaign memo which argues that he can win the nomination by winning in Florida and in the February 5 contests. Key point from the memo:

Only 78 delegates will be picked prior to Florida whereas 1,039 delegates will be picked on January 29 and February 5. Additionally, it is important to note that voting HAS ALREADY STARTED in Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey and New York - tens of thousands of people will have already cast their ballot by the time you are reading this note. And more February 5th states, including California will begin early and absentee voting soon. All of this points to the folly of over-estimating the impact of the results of Iowa and New Hampshire and the wisdom of our strategy.

Also, Florida, with 57 delegates, is the only winner-take-all state before February 5.

Key weakness: By looking at Giuliani's leads over other candidates in Florida, New York, New Jersey, and California through an average of November and December results, it overlooks the fact that the results are now closer in Florida (realclearpolitics.com average: Giuliani, 25 percent; Huckabee, 23 percent; Romney, 19 percent). There at least, if not in New York, New Jersey, or California, the ongoing course of the race in Iowa and New Hampshire seems to be having an effect. And of course Giuliani's national numbers are nowhere near where they once were (realclearpolitics.com average Giuliani, 20 percent; Huckabee, 17 percent; McCain, 16 percent; Romney, 15 percent; Thompson, 12 percent).  Rasmussen's latest four-day track has Rudy in third place (but only 2 percent behind the leader). All five leading candidates in that poll come in between 12 percent and 17 percent, which says to me that anyone has a chance to win.

And that's all I would give Rudy at this stage. In the past, strategies that have relied on total delegate count have generally been undone by results in relatively low-delegate states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. The Rudy memo argues that the old rules don't apply this year, and maybe that's true. There does seem to be something really weird about 303,000,000 Americans subcontracting much of the decision-making over who will be the next president to some 200,000 caucusgoers in Iowa and 400,000 primary voters in New Hampshire. Maybe Rudy will have the resources and the megaphone to make his argument over the heads of the early contest winners. Or maybe the early contests will produce enough muddle that the national race will end up where Rasmussen has it now—and the Rudy people certainly are correct in saying that they're likely to exceed their national percentage in several of the big states voting January 29 and February 5.

But I would still advance two cautions. Number one is that he who lives by the delegate count could die by the delegate count. John McCormack of the Weekly Standard went through the exercise of the delegate math, and came to the conclusion that it would be very hard, though not impossible, for Rudy to amass a delegate majority. Of course if he has a substantial delegate lead, it would be hard to deny him the nomination, and I think the decision would be brokered long before the convention, for reasons I explained in this Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

The second caution is that I think there is some larger reason that Giuliani's national numbers have fallen—larger, that is, than the fact that his numbers are flagging in Iowa and New Hampshire. Some of this may be stories about his personal life. But some of it may result from this: Part of Giuliani's initial appeal came from the fact that he had, as commander of a uniformed force (the NYPD totaled as many as 40,000 under his command) achieved spectacularly good results (crime down two-thirds). This was in vivid contrast to the failure of George W. Bush, as of the end of 2006, to achieve acceptable results from our uniformed forces in Iraq. But now Bush, by choosing Gen. David Petraeus and ordering the surge strategy, seems to be getting acceptable results in Iraq, and so perhaps voters subliminally don't see the need for someone with Rudy's particular skills.

Anyway, these are interesting things to contemplate as we await the release of the final pre-caucus Des Moines Register poll tonight.