THE NOTE: Rudy Rises

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While the political world has waited for the inevitable collapse of Rudolph Giuliani, something interesting has happened: He looks stronger, not weaker, than he did a few months ago.

In addition to being the national poll leader, the former mayor of New York City is surging in New Hampshire, which has never been crucial to his Feb. 5 strategy but is vital to at least two of his opponents. He's now the GOP fund-raising leader, too, despite getting a bit of a late start behind former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., looks stronger than ever -- http://www.usatoday.com/news/polls/tables/live/2007-10-15-poll.htm?loc=interstitialskip good news for a GOP candidate who's running on electability.

Perhaps most significantly, nothing major -- not Romney's attacks, not social conservatives' threats to bolt the party, not recurring questions about his abortion position -- has stopped Giuliani, R-N.Y., from controlling the GOP race. He's even doing another TV interview with his wife tonight -- talking about his family on his terms, not his rivals'.

Yes, he's spending more than he's bringing in, but he's got $16.6 million in reserve -- and he hasn't spent a dime on TV ads yet. The latest campaign-finance numbers show that Giuliani is putting in place a strategy that would allow him to fall short in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, yet still compete for the nomination.

"Giuliani invested thousands of dollars opening campaign offices in places such as Fargo, N.D., and Columbia, Mo.," write Matthew Mosk and Sarah Cohen of The Washington Post. "Giuliani's decision to spend there, as well as in Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois -- all states that will be part of a Feb. 5 mega-primary -- signals that he alone among the Republicans is laying the groundwork for a national primary strategy, campaign strategists said."

Look around the rest of the field for contrast. Romney suddenly looks vulnerable in New Hampshire (if somewhat less so in Iowa), and the lawyers comment at the debate and his Paul Wellstone/Howard Dean remark about the "Republican wing of the Republican Party" made him a target for his rivals.

His campaign would be flat broke if he weren't worth a couple hundred million (a big if, we know, but still . . . ). "Mitt Romney has spent nearly twice as much this year as Rudy Giuliani in the Republican presidential race, but remains locked in tight battles in Iowa and New Hampshire, and has less cash available than his rival as they enter the crucial stretch before balloting begins in January," The Boston Globe's Michael Levenson writes. He's already run nearly 11,000 ads, and has just $9.2 million in the bank after giving his campaign $17.4 million and counting.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is scrambling to stay relevant (and his baseball metaphor looks worse in the wake of the Colorado Rockies' sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks last night).

Even after righting his fiscal ship by dumping staff and restructuring over the summer, he still spent 95 percent of the money he brought in last quarter, ABC's Bret Hovell reports. He has a measly $3.5 million cash on hand -- and is still carrying $1.7 million in debt.

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