Analysis: Florida loss means likely exit for Giuliani

After spending most of January in Florida by himself, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) was dealt what is widely thought to be a fatal blow to his nomination hopes Tuesday night when he finished far behind the leaders in the Sunshine State’s primary.

Giuliani came in third behind Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainColbert mocks Gaetz after Trump denies he asked for a pardon Five reasons why US faces chronic crisis at border Meghan McCain calls on Gaetz to resign MORE (Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the contest, and the former mayor took to the stage to address his supporters, often using the past tense to describe his campaign.

Before Giuliani took to the stage -- and before McCain was projected to win -- reports were already starting to surface that Giuliani might drop out of the race as soon as Wednesday and endorse McCain.

The former mayor has long made a win in Florida the centerpiece of his strategy for winning the nomination after largely forfeiting the major early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina, as well as less significant races in Wyoming and Nevada.

Giuliani’s strategists have long argued that bigger states with more delegates would decide the nomination, and that is why the former mayor had focused his attention on Florida instead of the smaller, early states.

While Giuliani spent most of last year with a double-digit lead as the national frontrunner, many reporters and pundits were reluctant to dismiss that strategy, particularly in light of the fluidity of the GOP race and the unprecedented frontloading of the primary schedule.

But after Christmas, when the national news media took their luggage and attention to Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond, Giuliani nearly vanished from the conversation.

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s primary, the wheels seemed to come off that strategy as the back-and-forth between new frontrunners Romney and McCain dominated the news coverage and sparse crowds reportedly greeted Giuliani’s “maiden campaign flight.”

After former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee split the early contests with McCain and Romney, there appeared to be a sliver of hope for what now looks like Giuliani’s doomed and ultimately flawed strategy.

The nightmare scenario the campaign had envisioned was that Romney would win all of the early states, building a wave of momentum that would carry the former governor past Giuliani in Florida.

Although that never came to pass, the die was cast, and Giuliani was never fully able to reinsert himself into the collective minds of the electorate. Primary night, observers watched closely as Giuliani appeared to be in a tough battle with Huckabee, who hardly campaigned in the state, for third place.

Giuliani’s big state strategy is undoubtedly welcome news in Iowa and New Hampshire, as it proves in some measure that future candidates can skip their contests only at their own peril.

Republican strategist Scott Reed said Giuliani’s game plan will likely be remembered as “historically stupid.”

A number of reporters and analysts, however, had speculated that given some of Giuliani’s positions and his history, a big state, large media market strategy might have been his only hope.

Since before Giuliani entered the race, those same reporters and analysts were skeptical at best that a thrice-married, pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights former mayor of New York City could connect with socially conservative Republican voters.

As reporters counted down the hours and minutes until the Florida polls closed, the Giuliani campaign circulated registration applications to be on the former mayor’s press plane that is scheduled to fly to Los Angeles Wednesday for the next Republican debate.

Just days after that debate, on Super Tuesday, voters in some of the largest states in the union will go to the polls. Of those states, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have long factored into Giuliani’s long-term, delegate-focused strategy.

Despite that sliver of hope the next round might provide, the former mayor certainly sounded like a defeated candidate Tuesday night as he talked about the campaign he “ran.”