Florida or Waterloo? Stakes High for Giuliani

"¡Cuba Libre!" shouts the crowd of elderly Cuban-Americans. "¡Rudy! ¡Rudy! ¡Rudy!"

"I love you," says the former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, to the crowd at the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center. "I admire you, I see something in you that is the quintessential story of America."

Months ago, Giuliani held a commanding lead among the Republican-leaning Cuban-American community.

Now, according to some polling, he's running neck and neck with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., just as he's lost support among Florida Republicans in general.

Florida was supposed to serve as the springboard to the Republican nomination for Rudy Giuliani.

As recently as Dec. 3, Quinnipiac Polling had him leading the state among Republicans with 30 percent, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 12 percent, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with 11 percent, former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., with 10 percent, and McCain, with 9 percent.

But he's now fighting for his political life.

"We're going to come from behind and surprise everyone," Giuliani said at the Boca Raton debate Thursday night. "We have them all lulled into a very false sense of security now."

Comeback Kid or End of the Road?

Political observers are trading theories as to what happened to Giuliani's campaign. But most agree his absence from the early contests made him the forgotten candidate.

"He waited too late in the process to show some momentum, and now, he's not even part of the picture," said ABC News political contributor Matthew Dowd, a former senior advisor to President George W. Bush.

As Giuliani sat out early contests in Iowa, Michigan, and South Carolina, the vacuum was filled by scandalous headlines, such as those about the indictment of Bernard Kerik, his former police commissioner in New York.

In the meantime, Giuliani's rivals racked up delegates — and perhaps, more importantly, positive, victorious headlines — for wins that seemed to split the Republican field.

Huckabee stunned Romney in Iowa. McCain came out the victor in both New Hampshire and South Carolina.

And, if that weren't enough to create chaos in the Republican field, Romney won Michigan, and relatively uncontested prizes in Wyoming and Nevada.

All of this confusion should have played into Giuliani's plan: skip the early states and dominate the field, heading into a multi-state delegate bonanza on Feb. 5.

So far, it hasn't happened the way Giuliani scripted it. And, whatever the reason for Giuliani's plummeting poll numbers, it created an opening for his rivals.

'America's Mayor' as Underdog

Giuliani has slipped so significantly in Florida, his rivals spend most of their time attacking each other, not the former front-runner.

"Now, it takes a degree of chutzpah to go to someone and say, 'Give me your money and I will invest it for you," Romney told a south Florida crowd, selling himself as CEO-in-chief.

For McCain's part, he seems concerned only about Romney.

"He has changed positions on literally every major issue, no matter what it is," McCain said on Thursday, in reference to the former Massachusetts governor.

If that weren't enough, it's not just his rivals, but critical segments of Florida Republicans who are flocking elsewhere.

Friday evening, Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., a well-respected and influential Republican and Cuban-American, endorsed McCain, another blow for Giuliani in this make-or-break state.

But when asked by ABC News on Friday if it feels odd to be the 'underdog,' Giuliani responded directly, "Underdogs win."