Endorsements bring a new head of steam

RIVALS NO MORE: Rudolph W. Giuliani, who dropped out of the GOP race, said McCain was “the most qualified candidate to be the next commander in chief of the United States.”
RIVALS NO MORE: Rudolph W. Giuliani, who dropped out of the GOP race, said McCain was “the most qualified candidate to be the next commander in chief of the United States.”
(Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

John McCain sought to fasten his grip on the Republican presidential nomination Wed- nesday by securing high-profile endorsements from erstwhile rival Rudolph W. Giuliani and, in a reversal of his promised neutrality, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Former New York City Mayor Giuliani, who spent months atop national polls but never finished better than third in any contest, quit the race at a Simi Valley news conference, where he hailed the Arizona senator as a friend and an “American hero.”

“John McCain is the most qualified candidate to be the next commander in chief of the United States,” Giuliani said, as McCain stood next to him.

The endorsements came as the GOP hopefuls pivoted into a vastly more complicated fight for their party’s presidential nomination, an unprecedented day of balloting in 21 states sprawled across three times zones and more than 3,000 miles.

Among the states voting Tuesday are California, Illinois, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. At stake are 1,081 delegates to the party’s summer convention; it takes 1,191 to win the nomination.

“I don’t know how you pick your way through it,” said Andrew J. Taylor, a political scientist at North Carolina State University. “The sheer size . . . it makes you want to sit down and catch your breath. And it makes your head spin. It makes my head spin, and I don’t have to do it.”

McCain, the winner of Florida’s primary, sought Wednesday to translate his momentum into money, something that has been in short supply for the senator.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney planned to focus on caucus states where he could apply his organizational prowess.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee clung to the waning hope that a muddled picture would allow him to prevail at a contested Republican convention this summer.

The exit of Giuliani not only thinned the field but eliminated McCain’s chief competitor for the votes of moderate Republicans, which could be especially helpful in California, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

“Until a few days ago, both the front-runners had an albatross on their back. Now [Giuliani] is not only dropping out but endorsing him,” said Dan Schnur, a GOP strategist who worked for McCain in his 2000 race but is neutral this time.

By contrast, Schnur said, Romney will continue to vie with Huckabee for the support of social conservatives.

Still, neither Schnur nor others expected the contest to be settled the morning of Feb. 6.

“Even though McCain goes into next week as a strong front-runner, it’s hard to see him sweeping a map that’s that big and that broad,” Schnur said. “Barring a complete meltdown, Romney can probably pick off enough states to claim a split decision and keep going forward.”

Forced to negotiate such an unwieldy terrain, tacticians for the three major candidates were poring over maps and precinct data, targeting pockets of perceived strength and scratching off states that seemed too expensive for advertising or politically too far out of reach.

Despite his advantages, money remains a concern for McCain, whose campaign faced a $4.5-million debt at the end of 2007. Since then, he has stepped up fundraising; aides said he collected more in January than he did in the final three months of last year.

“Money is momentum and vice versa,” said campaign manager Rick Davis.

Over the next six days, McCain intends to pair campaign stops with fundraisers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and on the East Coast. He will also seek to capitalize on his front-runner status by ginning up free publicity.

“We are going to try to be communicating to as many people as we can, and the way to do that is through television,” said campaign advisor Steve Schmidt. Between now and Tuesday, Schmidt said, McCain will try to land one-on-one interviews with local TV news anchors “in as many markets as possible.”

Cash is less of a problem for Romney, who has tapped his extensive personal fortune to help buoy his campaign. He joked about whittling away his family’s inheritance during a Tuesday night appearance after finishing a disappointing second in Florida.

“Our strategy is to win delegates,” said deputy campaign chief Carl Forti. “Use our resources -- our candidate, his wife and his sons -- to cover a lot of ground and carry our message to as many voters as we can touch.”

Romney planned to campaign today across Southern California.

He hopes to run well in caucus states, such as Colorado and Minnesota, that put a premium on the kind of organization that carried him to a second-place finish in Iowa and a victory in Nevada.

Huckabee, who has not won a contest since Iowa on Jan. 3, faces a more precarious path, though he insisted Wednesday, “Our campaign is full throttle toward Super Tuesday.”

He planned to spend much of his time in his native South and states bordering the region, including Oklahoma, Missouri and West Virginia. With limited funds, Huckabee’s goal is to target areas with large numbers of social conservatives.

“If we collect delegates in those states, we’re in the finals,” said campaign strategist Bob Wickers.

“If this thing goes to the [GOP nominating] convention and we’re still standing, we have a shot. Our goal is to stay on our feet and keep battling, keep fighting,” he said.

Apart from the challenges posed by time and distance, other factors add to the complexity of Super Tuesday. Some states will award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis; others will allot delegates based on a candidate’s performance in a particular congressional district.

Some states will allow independents to vote; others -- including California -- will limit participation to registered Republicans. Some will hold primaries; others will have caucuses.

“There’s no neat answer to this because each state has its little asterisk beside it as to how it works,” said Rich Bond, a former Republican Party chairman who is supporting McCain.

In the race for delegates, McCain holds a relatively slim lead with 93, followed by 59 for Romney, 40 for Huckabee and four for Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, according to the Associated Press.

A big part of McCain’s strategy is consolidating support within the party and establishing an air of inevitability. Schwarzenegger’s backing could provide a big boost here, much as McCain benefited from the endorsement of Florida’s popular Gov. Charlie Crist.

In a marriage of mavericks, Schwarzenegger planned to announce his support for McCain this morning when they tour a solar roofing company near downtown Los Angeles. Giuliani’s decision to end his campaign was instrumental in the California governor’s move -- and his decision to step off the sidelines after recently announcing he would sit out the presidential race.

“He’s good friends with both and thought they were both strong candidates,” said one high-ranking Schwarzenegger administration official who requested anonymity because the endorsement had not officially been made. “With Giuliani dropping out, that cleared the way for the governor’s decision.”

By endorsing McCain, Schwarzenegger is aligning himself with a candidate who shares a penchant for speaking his mind -- sometimes to his detriment -- and occasionally breaking with party orthodoxy.

“Gov. Schwarzenegger is an exceptional governor,” said Schmidt, the McCain advisor, “and Sen. McCain is honored by his decision to endorse.”


Times staff writers Dan Morain, Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta contributed to this report.