There’s been a lot of speculation in political circles about how, precisely, national frontrunner Rudy Giuliani plans to win the Republican nomination. Not long ago, some observers believed his strategy was not to worry terribly about Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina and instead pin his hopes on big wins in the big states, beginning with Florida. Then, Giuliani seemed to be placing new emphasis on the early states, suggesting he had changed his plans. But only now are the outlines of his strategy coming into focus, and it turns out both theories were true.
Wednesday, after the announcement that Pat Robertson was endorsing his candidacy, Giuliani sat down with me for a talk about strategy. The plan he described basically involves counting backward from February 5, that is, first establishing himself in the mega-primary states — with Florida a must-win contest — and then taking up the fight in the smaller early states. It’s a big-risk, big-reward strategy, given the possibility that another candidate might dominate the early primaries, knocking Giuliani out of the running before the big states began to vote.
“Everybody has their own theory,” Giuliani told me. “Our theory was to get the big states organized, try to beat everybody else to getting the big states organized, so you have them as a fallback, and then take your resources and start to expend them in the states that come up first. And now we’re going to do that.”
A short time after our talk, Giuliani headed off to Iowa, and I asked him to expand a bit on his early-state plans. “We’re going to be in Iowa today,” he said. “We’ll be there next week. We’re going to increase our schedule now in the last two months in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and we’ll see what Michigan does, if Michigan has a primary or not. If Michigan doesn’t have a primary, if it has a convention, then we probably wouldn’t increase our schedule there.”
The new emphasis on the early states, Giuliani continued, “seems to be working. What we’ve done in New Hampshire seems to be working. Romney had something like a 14- or 15-point lead. It’s down to five, and he’s still spending six or seven million to our $500,000. So we feel pretty good that in New Hampshire we’re going to do really well. [Note: the Real Clear Politics average of polls has Romney, who once did indeed have a 15-point lead, ahead of Giuliani by 9.5 percentage points in New Hampshire.] And South Carolina, we’re in pretty good shape, and now we’re going to start working in Iowa.” [The RCP average in Iowa has Giuliani in third place, 16 points behind Romney, while the average in South Carolina has the two men, along with Fred Thompson, tied for first place.]
“We don’t think we’re going to win all the primaries,” Giuliani said, “but we think we can win a couple of those early ones.”
And then there are those big states, starting with Florida and leading to the February 5 primaries across the country. “We sort of back up with February 5,” Giuliani told me. “We’ve got to win most of the states on February 5, because if you won all the primaries before February 5 and lost the ones on February 5, the other guy would be the nominee. Then you work back from February 5 and the next on is, you’ve got to make sure you win Florida. And then you want to win as many of the ones before Florida as you can.”
It’s an audacious plan, and plans have a tendency to change once the voting actually begins — especially if Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Fred Thompson have any say in the matter.