By DEVLIN BARRETT
ORLANDO, Fla. — Rudy Giuliani was always a long-shot for the Republican presidential nomination, a brash New Yorker who backed gun control, abortion and gay rights in a party dominated by Southern conservatives.
The only surprise was that he lasted as long as he did as the national front-runner.
The former New York mayor planned to exit the GOP race Wednesday and endorse rival and friend John McCain. Giuliani’s unconventional strategy of largely bypassing the early voting states and focusing on more populous, delegate-rich states produced just one delegate, a bunch of sixth-place finishes and made him the odd man out.
His best showing was Florida, where he had staked his candidacy. He finished a distant third.
It was a remarkable defeat for the ex-mayor who entered the race more than a year ago with an aura of invincibility, leading national polls and earning a reputation for toughness after his stewardship of New York as terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001.
This election year, the nation’s economic woes replaced terrorism as a top issue for voters, and with that change, much of the rationale for Giuliani’s candidacy disappeared. When voting began earlier this month, Republicans and independents flocked to his rivals, the conservative McCain, businessman Mitt Romney and the ordained Baptist minister Mike Huckabee.
On Tuesday, after the Florida results, Giuliani delivered a valedictory speech that was more farewell than fight-on.
“I’m proud that we chose to stay positive and to run a campaign of ideas in an era of personal attacks, negative ads and cynical spin,” Giuliani said as supporters with tight smiles crowded behind him. “You don’t always win, but you can always try to do it right, and you did.”
To run for president, Giuliani put on hold a lucrative business in consulting major corporations and foreign governments, and he may well return to it.
Yet he may not be the last New York mayor to try to win the White House this year. Waiting in the wings is current Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who insists he is not a candidate but who aides say is considering running as an independent.
As a candidate, the 63-year-old Giuliani was a collection of contradictions, so much so that he liked to joke that even he didn’t always agree with himself.
Giuliani, who voted for liberal George McGovern in 1972, became a Republican mayor of an overwhelmingly Democratic city. Campaigning for national office, he claimed to have created the most conservative government in the most liberal city in America.
After earning a reputation as a tough-talking, even abusive executive, Giuliani the presidential candidate was mostly mild-mannered in debates, even as those around him got meaner.
He even surprised his hometown when the lifetime New York Yankees fan told New England and Red Sox Nation that he was rooting for Boston in the World Series.
By necessity, Giuliani’s strategy meant playing down states that led off the voting in early January to make his stand in delegate-rich Florida. He wanted to use the 57-delegate win in that state to propel him to victories in the 20-plus states that vote Feb. 5; he had the edge in polls in big-prize states like California and New York for months.
The risk was irrelevancy — and he found himself on the brink of it as his rivals racked up wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere, and dominated media coverage for weeks.
Giuliani figured that he’d have a strong shot to win the nomination if different candidates won in the early states, making for a fractured contest and no one candidate riding a wave of momentum into Florida. That’s exactly what occurred; three candidates won in the first six states to vote. Yet, Giuliani still couldn’t prevail.
His poll numbers dropped and key endorsements went to McCain.
Giuliani first gained prominence as a crime-busting federal prosecutor in Manhattan taking down mob bosses, Wall Street executives, and corrupt politicians.
Giuliani’s record as a crime-fighter helped propel his next career as a politician, but it wasn’t an immediate success. He lost the first time he ran for mayor in 1989 before winning in 1993.
As mayor, he fostered a take-charge image by rushing to fires and crime scenes to brief the media, but some critics felt he was more concerned about taking credit from others for what became a historic decline in the city’s crime rate during his tenure.
And, while the cleanup of New York in the 1990s helped the city take advantage of the nation’s economic boom, critics — especially in minority communities — complained that Giuliani’s tactics were too aggressive and trampled on civil rights.
A bout with prostate cancer and the very public breakup of his marriage with second wife Donna Hanover — she first learned he was filing for divorce when he made the announcement at a televised news conference — forced Giuliani to withdraw from a race for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000.
By the summer of 2001, public esteem for Giuliani was at a low ebb. On the morning of Sept. 11, Giuliani did what he always did: rushed to the scene.
In the minutes, hours, and days that followed, he presented a calm, determined presence — urging people not to panic, but reminding them of the grim toll of the terrorist attacks. The image of a dusty, sweaty Giuliani walking near ground zero, surrounded by firefighters and police, was seared into the national memory.
In December 2001, Time magazine named him “person of the year” and its cover showed Giuliani standing atop a skyscraper in front of the New York skyline with the label “Rudy Giuliani — tower of strength.”
In the years after the attacks, that reputation helped launch a successful consulting business, and got him a major piece of a DC-based law firm with a long list of big corporate clients.
While Giuliani has long been known as efficient and tough-minded, he also can be brusque, rude and occasionally harsh.
His past associations in business and politics have come under scrutiny. President Bush, at Giuliani’s urging, nominated Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner and one-time close associate of Giuliani to head the Homeland Security Department. Kerik withdrew his nomination, and later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of accepting a gift from a company suspected of ties to organized crime.
Giuliani’s two past marriages have also raised questions. He married Regina Peruggi in 1968, then had the marriage annulled in 1982 on the grounds they were second cousins once removed. His second wife, Hanover, was embittered by their very public divorce, and Giuliani’s son, Andrew, has acknowledged that he is estranged from his father.
Giuliani’s more moderate views also were an issue with some conservative voters. He favors abortion rights, but says he would appoint justices “very similar” to Samuel Alito and John Roberts, who have voted for abortion restrictions. He also supports gay rights, though he opposes gay marriage. And he backs gun control.
With no working strategy in his presidential campaign, no primary victories and dwindling resources, the mayor’s third-place finish in Florida spelled the end of his run, even if his crestfallen supporters couldn’t believe it.
“They’ll be sorry!” a woman with a New York accent called out to the mayor as he spoke Tuesday night. “You sound like my mother,” Giuliani joked.