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No Need To Write Rudy Off Yet

I have some quibbles with this Stu Rothenberg column about Giuliani, but I think his take-away point is fundamentally right:

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) has taken quite a hit recently both in the national media and in national polls. Journalists have noted that his crowds during the first two weeks of January were small, leading some to conclude that the mayor’s presidential race may be over even before it has begun.

But as we’ve already seen a number of times during this presidential campaign, it’s wise not to jump to conclusions, and Giuliani’s strategy has not yet been tested. There’s no need for you to be the first on your block to write off the New Yorker.

Agreed. Rudy's nomination strategy has never stood a very high chance of success, which is why I spent the fall panning it (see here, here, here, and here). But if you asked me how his chances look today relative to a month or six weeks ago, I'd have to say they look much better. (Not good by any stretch, but better.) Basically everything he's wanted or needed to happen has happened--three primaries, three different winners, no consolidation of voters or the establishment behind a single candidate. As Rothenberg says, that gives him at least a shot in Florida, whereas six weeks ago it looked like Romney would win both Iowa and New Hampshire and end the race before it ever got there.

In a nutshell, I think the national media was much too high on Rudy this summer and fall, by which point it was already clear he didn't have much of chance, but is too down on him now, when his strategy still offers a glimmer of hope.

Now for the quibbles. Rothenberg writes:

The crucial point is this: Giuliani didn’t fall in the national polls because Republican voters decided he doesn’t have the stuff to be president. He didn’t see his crowds thin because rank-and-file Republicans finally turned thumbs down on his more moderate social views (on abortion, gay rights or gun control). And he didn’t fall off the media’s national radar because Republicans remembered his friendship with Bernie Kerik or his messy personal life when he was still serving as mayor.

Giuliani’s star dimmed during the first half of January, not because he committed a gaffe but because he made himself irrelevant. When he becomes relevant at the end of January, both voters and the national media will once again turn to Rudy, and that’s when he’ll have his shot.

I agree that Rudy will see an uptick in media attention when the campaign gets to Florida. And that this will give him an opportunity to get back in the race (albeit an extremely small and fleeting one--which will disappear altogether if McCain hangs on in South Carolina). I also agree that a decent amount of the downward drift is an inevitable result of his campaign strategy. (Though the high poll numbers were never based on anything but name-recognition and mythology, so they would have come down regardless of the strategy.)

But the idea that Rudy's drop in the polls is entirely a function of his longstanding master-plan, and not related to voters' rejection of him, simply isn't true. Rudy made a big push in New Hampshire this fall--dozens and dozens of visits, lots of paid advertising--and, by the end of that time, he was actually lower in the polls there than when he started. And New Hampshire should have been favorable terrain.

Now, whether the explanation for this was ideology, personality, qualifications, or various Kerik- and Nathan-related sleaze is tough to say. But there was clearly a rejection there. And it's not at all clear it won't happen all over again in Florida.

Update: I see that Matt Yglesias and, via Matt, New York's John Heilemann are having similar thoughts--though Heilemann is a good deal more bullish on Rudy than I am.   

--Noam Scheiber