WASHINGTON — Is Rudy Giuliani hearing opportunity knock or is he hearing footsteps from behind?
The former New York mayor’s presidential campaign strategy initially seemed to be aimed at big primary states such as Florida and California, and largely ignoring early small states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
This week, however, Giuliani unleashed radio ads trumpeting his conservative credentials in Iowa and New Hampshire right after a two-day swing through Iowa.
What gives? Some political observers say the Giuliani camp may be rethinking its big-states strategy because of the shifting political landscape, believing it can pick up moderate supporters from Arizona Sen. John McCain’s sinking presidential campaign.
Other analysts believe that Giuliani now feels pressured to show well in Iowa and New Hampshire to protect himself against Sen. Fred Thompson’s anticipated entry into the race. A high-profile actor and smooth-drawling Southerner, Thompson could chip away at Giuliani’s support in Florida — the first of the big states to vote, on Jan. 29, and one where Giuliani has spent a lot of time and money.
A new Mason-Dixon poll Friday found that Giuliani led Thompson in Florida only narrowly, 21-18 percent.
Giuliani campaign officials insist that their recent moves aren’t a change in strategy.
“We’ve always had a two-pronged strategy to do well in the early states and do well in the Feb. 5 states,” said Mike DuHaime, Giuliani’s campaign manager. About 20 states will hold primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5, including California, Illinois, Missouri, New York and New Jersey.
Scott Reed, who managed Kansas Sen. Bob Dole’s unsuccessful 1996 presidential campaign, isn’t convinced.
“This initial strategy of blowing off Iowa and New Hampshire is pretty risky, and I think they realize that,” Reed said. “He’s still got to figure out how he’s going to appeal to conservative voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.”
Giuliani leads the Republican field in most national polls, a status he’s enjoyed almost from the start of this early presidential campaign season. But he's suffered some slippage over the last several months as Thompson’s numbers have risen.
An ABC News/Washington Post Poll this released this week illustrates Giuliani’s dilemma. The former mayor topped the poll at 37 percent, followed by McCain at 16 percent, Thompson at 15 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 8 percent.
Giuliani registered 53 percent support in the same poll in February.
Enthusiasm for Giuliani also appears to be waning. In last week’s ABC/Post poll, 32 percent of Republicans said they “strongly” support Giuliani, down from 45 percent in April. His support among white evangelical Protestants, which helped fuel his rise, eroded from 53 percent in February to 37 percent this month.
“It seems as if people are waiting for Thompson,” said Maurice Carroll, the director of Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Thompson isn’t Thompson: he’s the anti-Giuliani.”
Reed attributes the slide in support to conservatives who initially liked Giuliani because of his tough talk on terrorism and the way he led New York after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but they've shifted away after learning more about his positions on key social issues. Giuliani supports abortion rights and same-sex civil unions.
“He’s ridden the ‘America’s Mayor’ magic carpet as far as it can go,” said Reed. “Giuliani’s challenge is to fill in the blanks on what a Giuliani presidency would look like.”
Giuliani is trying.
Last month, he unveiled his “12 Commitments,” 12 big promises of what he would do if elected president. His broad vows include keeping America on the offensive against terrorists, cutting federal spending, appointing strict constructionist federal judges, increasing the number of adoptions while decreasing the number or abortions and providing quality education through “real school choice to parents.”
His commitments are featured in one of three new 60-second radio ads that debuted on Iowa and New Hampshire airwaves Tuesday.
“We will require agency heads to present five to up to as much as 20 percent reductions in their annual budget,” Giuliani says in one ad, titled “Will Do.” “It’s the only way to reduce spending . . . I will restore fiscal discipline and cut wasteful spending in Washington.”
The ads increase Giuliani’s presence in two states where Romney is ever present, spending money freely and leading the Republican pack in most polls. While maintaining that Giuliani intends to compete everywhere, his campaign has made no bones about the importance of the big primary states where his appeal is likely to be strongest — Florida, New York, California, New Jersey and Illinois.
Giuliani appears to be putting a premium on Florida. He’s made 13 trips to the Sunshine State thus far, versus six to Iowa, seven to New Hampshire and eight to South Carolina. Giuliani has spent more than $400,000 in Florida in three months, according to campaign finance records released earlier this month, including $100,000 for copies of voter files from the state Republican Party.
DuHaime said earlier this month that the campaign, with more than $18 million in cash on hand, was expanding its operation beyond Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina “into big states like Florida, California and many others.”
Some 73 percent of Iowa Republicans identified themselves as conservative in 2000, the last year the state had a contested GOP caucus, according to Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. That leaves a pool of 25 to 30 percent of Republicans who may be more moderate, and thus drawn to McCain or Giuliani. With McCain polling in single digits in Iowa, Giuliani could attract the lion’s share of that support.
“I think McCain’s problems, especially in Iowa, represent an opportunity for Giuliani,” Scala said. “Thompson getting in may hurt Giuliani, but he also hurts Romney, because you would have a three-way campaign, with Thompson and Romney fighting for conservative votes. Giuliani would have the moderate votes all to himself.”
Eric Davis, a political science professor at Vermont’s Middlebury College, said that Giuliani, despite radio buys in Iowa and New Hampshire, is still looking beyond those states to the Feb. 5 primaries.
“Radio doesn’t cost any money at all. The whole purpose of the ads was to generate buzz, get some free media, and maybe get a few conservatives to pay attention,” he said. “If Giuliani finishes ahead of McCain in Iowa or New Hampshire, he’s accomplished what he’s supposed to do and move on to face Romney on Feb. 5.”
The Mason-Dixon Florida poll of 400 likely voters in each party was taken July 23-26. Its error margin was plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Although Giuliani's three-point lead over Fred Thompson in the Mason-Dixon poll is within the survey's error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points, it's correct to say, as the story does in graf six, that Giuliani leads Thompson narrowly in Florida. According to the science of statistical probability, the 21-18 Giuliani lead is more likely to be an accurate reflection of the sampled population than any other combination within the margin of error. (The combination least likely to be accurate is the one at the extremes of the margin of error, a 23-16 Thompson lead.)
The ABC News/Washington Post Poll was conducted July 18-21 with a random national sample of 1,125 adults. Additional interviews were conducted with an over-sample of randomly selected African-Americans for a total of 210 respondents. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample and plus or minus 5 percentage points for the sub-sample of 403 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.