Is Giuliani Facing Free Fall?

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Joe Skipper / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani

Campaign restarts are popular items this season, and last Saturday, in case you missed it, Rudy Giuliani tried to restart his unconventional presidential campaign with an inspirational speech in Florida about overcoming adversity. "I've met adversity before," Giuliani said. "I've led in situations that seemed hopeless and dire, in need of a miracle. I don't just hope for miracles. I expect miracles."

Giuliani doesn't need a miracle just yet, but a little good news might be nice. Yesterday in Missouri, mechanical problems left Giuliani without an airplane, forcing him to cancel a rally and embark instead on a seven-hour drive around the Show-Me State. Then, after months of claiming he led all Republicans in preference polls nationwide, new surveys showed he had slipped into a dead heat with, depending on the poll, Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney. Finally, late last night, Giuliani checked into a St. Louis hospital with symptoms of the flu. He is expected to be released sometime Thursday.

Giuliani is far from out of the murky and chaotic Republican race, but his challenges in the contest are growing, not shrinking. Giuliani's campaign has always been based on an unlikely hunch: that the G.O.P. would splinter in the early states between religious, economic and foreign policy conservatives, permitting someone with name recognition, a bundle of cash and enough overall appeal to swoop in and restore order when the big wave of primaries and caucuses occurred in early February, including Missouri.

Giuliani has proven more durable than many had expected, and his standing in the polls, until recently, seemed unaffected by questions about his private life, his loyalty to — and promotion of — disgraced New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik and potential conflicts of interest stemming from his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners. Those questions — repeated and repeated — have now begun to take a toll: Giuliani's negative ratings jumped seven points in the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

Giuliani's steady decline in national polls, meanwhile, is magnified by surveys in the early battleground states. In Iowa, where his campaign is expending minimal effort, Giuliani is running fifth in the latest surveys, behind Fred Thompson and John McCain, along with Romney and Huckabee. In New Hampshire, where he has at times seemed committed to winning, but recently moved ad money out of the state, he is running third, behind Romney and McCain, and just ahead of Ron Paul. Giuliani maintains a tiny lead in Michigan, but even in Florida, where his campaign has been suggesting it could actually win the January 29 primary, his lead is disappearing; one poll last week showed him behind Huckabee for the first time. "They are worried about a free fall here," said one Republican strategist."

None of this puts the former New York mayor out of the running yet. But his wait-until-February strategy means Giuliani will have to live off the land longer than his rivals, and won't likely get the momentum bump that comes with a win for weeks. That situation is hardly, as Giuliani would say, "hopeless and dire." But combine it with all of the other issues Giuliani is facing, and it surely qualifies as adversity.