Is Giuliani Waiting Too Long?

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Joe Skipper / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani

The problem for Rudy Giuliani, the onetime front-runner in the G.O.P. race for President, is that he keeps writing himself out of the movie.

The former New York mayor never made a serious effort in Iowa — and came in sixth. Now, he has reduced his role to that of a cameo in New Hampshire as well. He is running behind John McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee in most surveys — his exact position depending on who the pollsters think is going to come out and vote. He neither helped nor hurt himself in Saturday night's ABC/Facebook debate — though he did seem to invoke Ronald Reagan's name nearly every time he spoke.

After spending 40 days in the state, however, Giuliani is now spending minimally on ads in New Hampshire and has largely put his wallet away, saving his money for later contests. Yet the risk Giuliani is taking by all but kissing off another state is considerable.

After Huckabee's victory in Iowa, the G.O.P. is searching frantically for an establishment candidate to take him on and appeal to independents — a hunt made all the more urgent by the success of Barack Obama, who also does well with independents. But because he isn't really contesting New Hampshire, Giuliani is not really part of that new and worried sweepstakes — remarkable for someone who proclaimed himself the notional front-runner for so long. McCain, after a dance with oblivion over the summer, has come roaring back and is ready to suit up for that job. (A Group called Reagan Alumni for McCain is forming to give the Arizona Senator the imprimatur of the G.O.P.'s most memorable hero.) Mitt Romney would obviously like the honor, too.

But Giuliani isn't positioned to compete for the job of taking Huckabee on — at least not in New Hampshire. Nor is the former New York mayor positioned to do well in the next major contest, in South Carolina. Giuliani's campaign strategy to wait, and wait...and wait until later this month and the G.O.P. primary in Florida, where thousands of transplanted New Yorkers will, at least in theory, rescue him from obscurity. Then, Giuliani's team believes, he can do well in the 20-state February 5 "Super Tuesday" extravaganza because no one will have the money to compete everywhere.

But it's a huge gamble. Giuliani is hoping the search for the party's new and improved establishment candidate won't be over by the time the primaries reach his promised land.