It was a rare flash of the pugnacious Rudolph W. Giuliani whom New Yorkers love or loathe: In Miami's Little Havana, he recalled barring Cuban President Fidel Castro from a 50th-anniversary banquet for the United Nations.
Why? "To make clear what I think of him -- what people should think of him," the former New York mayor told a roomful of elderly Cuban immigrants.
Apart from that tale of the Castro snub 13 years ago, the Gotham cowboy of old was nowhere to be seen as Giuliani gently made his way around Florida this month in what supporters fear could be the final lap of his campaign.
Giuliani has run his Florida campaign on the margins of what appears to be the central battle between John McCain and Mitt Romney. Apart from his call for cutting the cost of homeowner insurance with a national catastrophe fund, Giuliani has drawn barely any distinctions with his rivals for the Republican nomination. But he has urged them to be nice.
"I am sick of negative campaigning," he told a crowd of 75 at an airport rally in Fort Myers, on the Gulf Coast.
This from a New Yorker who has fought for decades in the bare-knuckles campaigns of his home state. When he bucked his party in 1994 and campaigned for Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo's reelection, Giuliani told voters that "ethics would be trashed" if they picked Republican George E. Pataki. (Pataki won.)
There was no such talk on Giuliani's final rounds of southern and central Florida. His hope is to defy pollsters and pundits with a comeback in today's primary. He is banking on retirees from New York to make the difference.
"There is a connection with New York -- not just that there are a lot of New Yorkers that have come to Florida, but people from Florida go back and forth to New York a lot," he told WINK, a Gulf Coast TV station.
Still, Giuliani's sedate approach to Florida has been puzzling, given the high stakes. Having lost badly in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- after abandoning efforts in each of those states -- he has steered nearly all of his money and staff into Florida. He acknowledged that he could not afford to lose.
"The winner of Florida," he told reporters on a flight between Orlando and Tampa, "will win the nomination."
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