WASHINGTON (CNN) - At last night’s Republican debate in Florida, Rudy Giuliani told Tim Russert he’ll mount a come-from-behind win, like the New York Giants. Unfortunately, his recent finishes have looked a lot more like the New York Knicks.
Giuliani hopes to jumpstart his candidacy in Florida - a state that is crucial to his bid for the GOP presidential nomination. He directed his criticism at the Democrats seeking their party's nomination. And he wasn't the only White House hopeful on stage in the Sunshine State who was holding back from launching a full-out assault on his GOP rivals. There were a few sharp elbows, but none of the roundhouse punches the Democrats threw Monday night. In fact, the mood on-stage was, for the most part, oddly civil for a critical primary season faceoff. Even McCain (the new national front-runner, according to recent polls) and Romney (who told a crowd just hours before the debate that “most of the guns will be aimed at me”) escaped mostly unscathed.
It was the first debate of the post-Fred Thompson era, and it’s worth noting that his exit seems have had an unexpected effect on the race. Before he dropped out, some observers thought Mike Huckabee, who draws from the same evangelical base as Thompson, would benefit. Others predicted that John McCain, a close friend of the former Tennessee senator, would get a boost.
Still, while his chief fundraiser has joined Sen. John McCain's team already, Thompson has yet to back any of his former rivals – and the candidate who’s seen the biggest Florida gains since his exit has been Mitt Romney, with a small but significant uptick in the most recent surveys.
If Thompson were to back his former colleague McCain before Tuesday’s primary vote there, it might make a difference. But with the state’s primaries closed to independents, the Arizona senator has to be hoping the latest assessment from notoriously straight-talking mom Roberta McCain is off the mark this time. (When asked by C-SPAN’s Steve Scully this week how much support her son had from the GOP base, her immediate response was: “I don't think he has any.”)
- CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand