Giuliani appears out of race

Times Staff Writers

Rudolph W. Giuliani all but abandoned his presidential bid Tuesday night after finishing a distant third in Florida, the state that was supposed to launch his campaign but instead sank his hopes before the vote count was even complete.

Giuliani is expected to quit the Republican race as early as today and endorse Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a friend and the winner of Florida.

Appearing before downbeat supporters in Orlando -- with not even two-thirds of the votes tallied -- Giuliani delivered what sounded like a valedictory for his campaign. The former New York mayor repeatedly spoke of his effort in the past tense as his wife, Judith, stood to his side, bearing a stiff smile.

“Win or lose, our work is not done, because leaders dream of a better future and then they help to bring it into reality,” Giuliani said. “The responsibility of leadership doesn’t end with a single campaign.”


He congratulated his opponents, calling them honorable and “great men” -- even praising Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, whom Giuliani once blasted for suggesting that America had invited the attacks of Sept. 11.

Giuliani became a national hero -- “America’s mayor” -- after his stout-hearted performance on that day.

For a time, with seemingly little effort, he sat atop national opinion polls for the GOP presidential nod.

But Giuliani had the unfortunate effect of growing less popular the more he campaigned -- even though he managed to keep his famously combustible personality under control throughout most of the contest.

He stunned many in the political world by winning the endorsement of the Rev. Pat Robertson and other social conservatives despite his support for legal abortion, gay rights and gun control.

But Giuliani pursued an unconventional strategy that ultimately proved to be his undoing.

After some preliminary efforts, he abandoned the races in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states that have traditionally launched White House winners, and chose instead to focus almost entirely on Florida. He campaigned here more than 50 days, far more than any other candidate.

For a time, the strategy seemed to work, as he led in Florida polls. But his support collapsed after he began racking up unimpressive finishes in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states. The defeats made it harder for Giuliani to raise money. Top advisors began working without pay.

Aggravating his troubles was a shift in the political climate. Economic woes eclipsed the Iraq war as a top voter concern, diminishing the campaign value of his tough-on- terrorism message.

Also problematic was the corruption indictment of his former police commissioner, Bernard B. Kerik, and a tabloid dust-up over New York taxpayer spending on security for Giuliani’s wife back when he was mayor and she was his mistress.

By the time the rest of the field joined Giuliani in Florida, his prospects were bleak. Those once inclined to vote for him were having second thoughts.

“My problem is, I’m a big fan of Giuliani,” said Lonny Castino, 58, a property manager in central Florida. “But when it comes to crunchtime, do I waste my vote?”

In Tuesday night’s speech -- to a crowd of about 150 swallowed up by a massive ballroom at the Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando -- Giuliani sounded familiar themes. He called for lower taxes, less regulation, fewer lawsuits and a leaner government.

He thanked his wife, his campaign team and volunteers, recounting others he had worked with, especially police officers and firefighters, when he cleaned up New York City and helped heal the city after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“This campaign has been dedicated to their memories,” Giuliani said. “The future of our nation is in good hands because it is in your hands. Together, you and I will keep fighting.”

He pledged, “No pessimism, ever, ever, ever.”

Giuliani then left the stage, smiling broadly as the crowd chanted “Ru-dy, Ru-dy,” and he exited behind a curtain.

Barabak reported from Miami and Roug from Orlando. Times staff writer Michael Finnegan in Miami Beach contributed to this report.