Pleading the Fifth

Rudy Giuliani got the memo about the importance of early primary states. He’s just choosing to ignore it. 

While Iowa and New Hampshire are crucial states for most Republican candidates, Rudy Giuliani thinks of them more as a nuisance. Giuliani’s campaign told reporters today that they think Giuliani can lose the first three contests in the cycle and still win the nomination. They essentially conceded defeat in Iowa and New Hampshire to Mitt Romney, who has double-digit leads in the polls and has poured millions into radio and television advertising.

Instead of the traditional strategy, Giuliani is hoping that Feb. 5 is a second Christmas, one where he’ll be given hundreds of delegates wrapped inside a Romney concession speech. According to his campaign manager and strategy director, Giuliani can come away with delegates from January primaries in Florida and Michigan, where he leads in polls. Then on Feb. 5, the campaign figures, Giuliani’s popularity in the New York region will guarantee him at least the 200 delegates from Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, plus many from the other 16 states that hold contests on “Tsunami Tuesday.” 

This strategy borders on hubris, but it also wisely lowers the bar. If the press starts railing on Giuliani for poor showings in the first two contests he can just say, “I told you so.” But can a national front-runner really set expectations that low and expect to stay out front? If Giuliani finishes fourth in Iowa to Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and maybe even Ron Paul (gasp!), could his candidacy still be taken seriously? What if Romney, Paul, and McCain trump him again in New Hampshire? As a Connecticut native, I can tell you Giuliani isn’t in for a soft landing on the icy streets of the Nutmeg State (where he called his lead “momentum-proof”). 

For Giuliani, his strategy is necessitated by disappointing polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. And to be fair, Giuliani has a real shot at winning South Carolina, where he’s locked in a race for first with Fred Thompson and a surging Romney . But his explicit focus beyond Iowa and New Hampshire won’t help his supporters in those states court new converts. Proof that Giuliani is thinking long term: He spends this week in Missouri, Florida, the Dakotas, and Washington, D.C. Iowa and New Hampshire aren’t even on the schedule.