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."
Romney: "If you want that kind of a liberal Democratic course as president, then you can vote for him." McCain: "People, just look at his record as governor."
The winner gets all 57 Republican convention delegates -- the biggest haul to date -- and Florida "could produce a clear front-runner for the party's presidential nomination before a virtual national primary next week," John M. Broder and Michael Luo write in The New York Times.
"Florida may be Mr. Romney's last chance to stop Mr. McCain from being anointed the front-runner in the Republican field."
McCain is closing strong -- buffeted by the endorsements of Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., and Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. (Which almost certainly means he'll be drubbed on Tuesday, given the tendency of voters to defy the pundits this cycle.)
"McCain and Romney are scrapping like lonely bridesmaids over a wedding bouquet," per the St. Petersburg Times overview. "They traded charges in TV and radio ads and in dueling news releases as they crisscrossed the state, and both campaigns complained of push-polling -- hit jobs masquerading as opinion polls."
Independents can't help McCain this time: "Florida's GOP primary will be the first of the 2008 campaign open only to Republicans, making it a clearer test of a candidate's appeal to the party's conservative base," Michael Shear and Perry Bacon Jr. write in The Washington Post. "McCain, in particular, will have to win without the support of independents, who helped him prevail in New Hampshire and South Carolina. It is also the largest, most diverse state to vote so far, and one whose residents are struggling with a depressed housing market and a faltering economy."
Surprise -- Romney has run more ads than anyone else in Florida, once again. Of 8,012 TV spots tracked by Nielsen Monitor-Plus, Romney aired more than half of them: 4,475, followed by 3,067 for Rudy Giuliani, per Joanna Weiss of The Boston Globe. "John McCain has run 470 ads, all of them this month," she writes. (Read those numbers again -- how is McCain in this race?) http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2008/01/the_florida_ad.html
Rudy, unlike his rivals, is closing out with sunshine in the Sunshine State. "We think that's how Mike Huckabee won in Iowa and we think the two candidates, John and Mitt, are really attacking each other now pretty relentlessly, very strongly," Giuliani tells the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody. "We think people of Florida want to hear a positive message."
(And yes, he's so positive that he's happy about the fact that Florida newspapers AREN'T endorsing him.)
On the Democratic side in Florida, there's an election that only matters if you want it to. And whether you want it to depends wholly and entirely on two factors: 1) Whether you live in Florida; and 2) The candidate you support for the Democratic nomination.
For a Clinton campaign that wants a new storyline rather urgently, a big win would be a boost -- even if it won't matter in the race for delegates. "Mrs. Clinton will no doubt try to use the platform of a victory here, assuming she wins, as a mini-bump going into Feb. 5," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.
Unlike Michigan, all the names will be on the ballot. And Camp Clinton is driving "an odd but intense competition over not just votes but, perhaps more significant, how to interpret the results of today's Democratic primary -- which will reward precisely zero delegates," Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times.
Sen. Clinton comes to Davie, Fla., on Tuesday, though appearing in public only AFTER the polls close (taking that pledge seriously -- sort of). They're not Kennedys, but she nabbed the endorsement of two big Florida Democratic names: Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and former attorney general Janet Reno, per Michael C. Bender of the Palm Beach Post.
Obama won't be anywhere near Florida: He's hitting El Dorado, Kansas, in a "visit to his grandfather's home town [that] is part of a broad and unorthodox strategy to build support in Republican-dominated states," Peter Slevin writes in The Washington Post.
"In Kansas and Idaho, Utah and Alaska, Obama's goal is to win delegates on Feb. 5 and to convince voters that he can compete where Democrats normally cannot."
ABC's Karen Travers and Talal Al-Khatib have details on what to watch for in Florida -- along with the candidates' schedules -- in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Why ever might Clinton look for something else to talk about? There's the crushing defeat in South Carolina. There's the rebuke Bill is getting from the party establishment (and toss in Al Sharpton's advice for good measure).
And then there are the pictures from Monday that no campaign could have purchased -- a rousing rally with special guests at American University, with a State of the Union cherry placed on top, frosting Clinton's smile into place.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., knows how to make a dramatic gesture -- and he showed the political world that he still knows how to deliver a heck of a speech when he thinks the time is right.
The time, he declared, was now, and the man was Sen. Barack Obama. "I feel change in the air," Kennedy told a turn-away crowd of more than 4,000 at American University.
"For Obama, the embrace of his party's most famous family marked a crucial moment of acceptance," Susan Milligan and Scott Helman write in The Boston Globe.
"And while the Kennedy name will carry clout in many states voting next Tuesday, the senator's endorsement also brought the self-styled outsider into the inner circle of the liberal establishment. . . . The Kennedy stamp of approval helps Obama with what has been his biggest vulnerability: a worry among Democrats that he can't win."
Kennedy left little doubt as to his disappointment with the Clintons. These phrases don't get plopped into a speech like this by accident: the "old politics of race against race," the "old politics of misrepresentation and distortion," the "truth" of Obama's steadfast anti-war position.
"He might as well have called her a 'has-been' -- a legacy of 1990s-style politics that rewards distortion, cynicism, self-aggrandizement and even failure," AP's Ron Fournier writes. "Because that must be what Kennedy believes; there is no other way to interpret the clues tucked between the lines of his address."
But Kennedy is looking forward as he heads west on Obama's behalf: "Though Kennedy's rhetoric on stage seemed at times targeted at the Clintons and, specifically, toward former President Bill Clinton, Kennedy insisted that the timing of his endorsement was 'really to the future,' " report ABC's Nitya Venkataraman, David Wright, and Audrey Taylor.
"Barack Obama has a very special and unique quality of inspiring. And I think that is what's important," Kennedy told ABC's Charlie Gibson. "My endorsement is about the future. And it's Barack Obama. And it's about whether he is going to be able to win the nomination and get about the business of bringing both the party and the country together. And I believe he has."
The timing couldn't have been better -- and not just because Super Tuesday draws near.
Here's the story that most any other day would put the Obama war room into lockdown mode: "Antoin 'Tony' Rezko was roused at daybreak Monday from his Wilmette mansion by federal agents and ordered jailed by a judge who was disturbed that the politically connected businessman concealed a $3.5 million payment from overseas," Jeff Coen and John Chase write in the Chicago Tribune. "Rezko's sudden arrest came days after his name became a point of controversy in the presidential campaign because of his past ties to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)."
"The Kennedy endorsement gave a fresh boost to Obama as the campaign entered its most competitive phase, with primaries in 22 states up for grabs on Super Tuesday next week," Anne Kornblut and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post. "It also overshadowed the arrest in Chicago of Tony Rezko, a major contributor to Obama over the years, on charges that he ran a major kickback scheme."
With the eyes of the nation on the House chamber last night, surely the buzz was about the president's recommitment to fiscal discipl . . . wait, did someone spy a snub?
"Obama refused to make himself available to greet Sen. Hillary Clinton before the speech," Frank James writes in the Chicago Tribune blog.
"He went out of his way to greet as many House members as possible and walked halfway across the chamber to greet members of the Supreme Court, the president's cabinet, the military joint chiefs. That made what happened next even more striking. Obama returned to stand by his seat next to Sen. Edward Kennedy."
"As Clinton approached, Kennedy made sure to make eye contact and indicated he wanted to shake her hand. Clinton leaned towards Kennedy over a row of seats and Kennedy leaned in towards her. They shook hands," James continued. "Obama stood icily staring at Clinton during this, then turned his back and stepped a few feet away. Kennedy may've wanted to make peace with Clinton but Obama clearly wanted no part of that."
(And the momentous exchange between 43 and a possible 44: "Hey buddy, how's it going?" Bush said to Obama, The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports.)
As for the State of the Union speech itself -- this was a hard one to get excited about. "President Bush proposed a short list of initiatives Monday that more than anything else underscored the White House's growing realization that his biggest political opponents now are time and an electorate already looking beyond him," Steven Lee Myers writes in The New York Times.
"This address lacked the soaring ambitions of Mr. Bush's previous speeches, though it had its rhetorical flourishes," he continues. "He invoked the 'miracle of America' but for the most part flatly recited familiar ideas -- cutting taxes, fighting terrorists, the war in Iraq -- rather than bold new ones. Nothing he proposed Monday is likely to redefine how history judges his presidency."
(Duly noted, but would Bush quibble with a legacy that casts him as a tax-cutting terrorist-fighter -- even one who started the war in Iraq?)
Here's your sweep for you: "Anyone hoping to sum up President George W. Bush's final State of the Union address in one sentence might turn to Stephen Sondheim's great song from the stage hit 'Follies': 'I'm Still Here,' " ABC's John Cochran writes. "Bush did what lame-duck presidents usually do: He reminded the country that as commander-in-chief and chief executive for another 12 months, he is still relevant."
USA Today's Susan Page: "The modesty of the new initiatives underscored the limitations in time, money and clout constraining what Bush is likely to accomplish over the next 51 weeks."
"For a president who has always favored boldness, it amounts to a dramatic shift," The Washington Post's Peter Baker writes.
"Just a year ago, Bush in the same chamber defied the new Democratic majority with his decision to send more troops to Iraq and challenged lawmakers to overhaul the immigration system. The past year demonstrated that Congress could not force him to change course in Iraq, but neither could he bend it to his will in the domestic arena."
In his final year, the president seems ready to define himself by his vetoes -- particularly on spending, as he makes what seems like a genuine push for earmark reform. "These are special interest projects put in to conference reports and never voted on," the president tells ABC's Ann Compton. "There's not hearings on whether they make sense, and they are not voted on by the Congress."
I'll be live-blogging Tuesday night as the Florida results roll in, at ABCNews.com's Political Radar.
Also in the news:
California is the big dog of Feb. 5, and a new poll underscores the importance of Florida for Romney. It's McCain 39, Romney 26, Giuliani 13, Mike Huckabee 11 in the L.A. Times/CNN/Politico poll. "McCain has vaulted ahead of three other candidates with whom he shared a statistical tie for the Republican nomination just two weeks ago," the Los Angeles Times' Cathleen Decker writes.
On the Democratic side, it's Clinton 49, Obama 32, John Edwards 11. "Democratic women continued to power her effort, siding with the New York senator by nearly a 2-1 margin," Decker writes. But . . . "the poll was conducted largely before Obama's victory Saturday in South Carolina and the subsequent high-profile endorsements of him by U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and his niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg."
Edwards, D-N.C., is up with a new media buy in Feb. 5 states -- and still looking well beyond that date. Edwards "has his sights set on playing kingmaker at the Denver convention in August," The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. Deputy Campaign Manager Jonathan Prince, in a conference call with reporters: "At a brokered convention, all bets are off."
(A thought -- don't you need to have some chips to place a bet? Will Edwards ever have a bigger stack than he does at this moment -- BEFORE Feb. 5, not after it? And how can a campaign that pinned itself on a four-state strategy -- one that resulted in one second-place finish and three thirds -- seriously play in 22 states where the candidate is outgunned and overshadowed?)
The Obama campaign was proud to unveil the candidate's endorsement by Toni Morrison on Monday: "There have been a few prescient leaders in our past, but you are the man for this time," she writes (and can she ever write).
But here's one of those endorsement letters that might have been better left in the drawer: "More than 80 volunteer lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees today endorsed Illinois Senator Barack Obama's presidential bid," The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage writes.
Time's Ana Marie Cox has an intriguing look at how Iraq could be John McCain's political downfall after all. "He has never missed an opportunity to tout the definite, if modest, improvement in Iraq and his role in pushing for the surge," Cox writes.
"But now, as McCain battles Mitt Romney to become the GOP frontrunner, it seems possible that the maverick Senator could be a victim of his own success. With Iraq overtaken by the flagging economy as voters' number one concern, McCain has not been able to turn his South Carolina victory of a week ago into a solid lead in the Florida polls, and Romney suddenly looks like a much more formidable rival for the nomination."
That burst of bipartisanship surrounding the economic stimulus bill could be falling victim to our bicameral system. The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman (in the story that's upsetting President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in roughly equal measure): "The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee yesterday unveiled a rival plan to stimulate the economy, offering a $500 check to virtually every American -- including low-income seniors and rich financiers -- in a direct challenge to the bipartisan deal reached last week by President Bush and House leaders."
ABC's Jake Tapper sees the Clinton campaign trying to rewrite history regarding Bill Clinton's Jesse Jackson comment.
"The Clinton campaign is now officially -- and erroneously -- challenging how the media reported former President Bill Clinton's comparison of Sen. Barack Obama to Rev. Jesse Jackson, he writes.
"On CNN a Clinton senior adviser claimed before he made his comments about Jackson the former president had been 'asked about historic voting in South Carolina,' said Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Florida."
Somebody get Rep. Meek the transcript.
How does Al Sharpton feel about it? "As one of the most outspoken people in America, there's a time to shut up, and I think that time has come," he said Monday on ABC's "The View."
And how does Ralph Nader really feel about the Clintons?
"Bill Clinton is generally viewed as one smart politician, having been twice elected the President, helped by lackluster Robert Dole, having survived the Lewinsky sex scandal, lying under oath about sex, and impeachment," Nader writes in a message to supporters, per the Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni.
"But during his two-term triangulating Presidency, he wasn't smart enough to avoid losing his Party's control over Congress, or many state legislatures and Governorships. It has always been all about him. Now he sees another admission ticket to the White House through his wife, Hillary Clinton."
Connecticut's governor and lieutenant governor, Jodi Rell and Michael Fedele, are endorsing McCain, per the Hartford Courant.
A superdelegate switcharoo: Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is moving from Edwards to Obama.
"Generally speaking, they left quite a mess." -- Duane Jones, the manager of the Clinton, Iowa, building where Hillary Clinton had her local campaign headquarters.
"I don't know the whole scoop, because it just happened." -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., on the Kennedy family split in the presidential race. On his wife's sentiments, he added: "You'll have to ask her yourself."
"Hillary Clinton is a liar." -- New Hampshire Union-Leader editorial, with typical subtlety, on Hillary Clinton's early-state pledge.
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