Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Tuesday casts his political fate with New York transplants and a few million other Florida voters, as the Sunshine State sheds light on a scattered Republican field in the last contest before the primary campaign goes national.
It's a beautiful day in Florida, except maybe if you draw your paycheck (or what's left of it) from the Giuliani campaign. Voting locations opened at 7 am ET and close by 8 pm, with returns expected to roll in primarily between 9 pm and 9:30.
Polls indicate a two-way battle for first is likely, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., hoping to cap a bitter Florida race with the last piece of momentum available before Feb. 5.
But McCain and Romney are both likely to emerge in strong position for Super Tuesday. That's not necessarily the case for Giuliani, R-N.Y., the one-time GOP frontrunner who has seen his standing plummet the longer he's campaigned in the state; Tuesday marks his 58th day campaigning in Florida, and he's done nothing to lower his own stakes and expectations in the closing hours of the race.
"We are going to win today -- and then of course, if we don't win, we figure out another strategy. But the idea is to win today, and to turn this thing," Giuliani told Robin Roberts on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday. "I think we're really going to surprise people."
Giuliani said he's counting on early voting to have come through big for him -- and said he still thinks the Florida gamble was worth it.
"The reasoning was that this was the state where we would have the chance to do the best, given my positions, given the pros and cons, given the resources we had, it would be better to apply them to a state this size," he said. "If you contemplate defeat, you're going to have defeat. If you contemplate victory, you give yourself the best chance of winning."
He's committed to Wednesday's debate in California, but it feels like the end is near for Rudy -- the lackluster crowds, the devastating quotes (from him and his advisers), the serene, almost resigned demeanor of his staff.
Per the Miami Herald: "Though he has acknowledged his campaign is sinking, Giuliani is acting like a fighter without taking any swings. . . . When asked what would happen after Tuesday's vote, Giuliani said, 'Wednesday morning, we'll make a decision.' "
Giuliani "hinted broadly today he could end his presidential bid as soon as Wednesday," the New York Daily News' David Saltonstall writes. "His comments came as Giuliani staggered through a listless, final day of campaigning by hop-scotching across the state in a private jet and greeting small groups of supporters in bland airport hangars."
Said Giuliani (raising the question of why he'd stay in the race if he doesn't win Florida): "I think the winner in Florida will win the nomination, and we going to win in Florida."
Giuliani campaign chairman Pat Oxford lays out the stakes for The Dallas Morning News' Wayne Slater: "If he is second or first, he certainly has momentum. But if he finishes third, it's going to be hard to get momentum out of it."
The battle between McCain and Romney has taken on increasingly personal overtones, as they squabble over each others' conservative credentials -- a battle that neither of them is fully comfortable waging. For these men, this is a vile curse word: They spent their final full day campaigning in Florida calling each other "liberal."