The campaign for the Republican nomination doesn't have any clear winners yet. But it does have its obvious losers. Minor candidates like Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo have bowed out, and Fred Thompson's exit can't be far off. What we're all waiting for now is to see whether Jan. 29's contest in Florida will confirm that Rudy Giuliani has become as irrelevant as Thompson, or give him the shot in the arm he's hungering for.
But it need not be that way. The current front runners who have worked to capitalize on the calendar's early votes can make Republican primary goers forget Giuliani if they bypass the state the way that Giuliani has sat out the contests in which they have succeeded. Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Mike Huckabee should skip Florida.
The conventional wisdom now says that Florida's primary will crown a leader heading into Feb. 5's Super Duper Tuesday and it's 1000+ delegates. And if you look at the calendars for McCain and Romney, their strategists would appear to agree.
But Florida will do no such thing. Even if Giuliani is defeated by one of his competitors in the Sunshine State, the contest is likely to be a close one. It will be difficult for any of the candidates to claim strong momentum from a decisive victory if they only take the state's 57 delegates by a few thousand votes.
Instead, a victory in Florida that appears hard won by Giuliani will move him back into the column of seeming viability. And lack of viability for Giuliani's campaign appears to be confirmed over and over again in recent polls results. While Romney more or less closed up shop in South Carolina, he still received a reasonable share of votes. Giuliani, on the other hand, came in behind Ron Paul once again, showing that all but the zaniest of Republican primary voters think that "America's mayor" isn't the right man to lead their party.
Giuliani wants to be out of that column, and he's setting up Florida as his Waterloo. He's sort of like an 18-year-old bully with a muscle car. He'll challenge you to a game of chicken on the outskirts of town late at night to show you up in front of all the other kids in town. And because his car is meaner than yours and he spends every day working on it, he very well could win.
But that victory will only mean a lot if he runs you off the road in front of that big audience. And if you don't show, and they sit out the game of chicken, too, the bully's cry of victory sounds pretty hollow.
A collective decision to skip Florida would be a lot like everyone deciding they have something better to do than watch the bully play chicken. It would represent the three leading candidates saying they aren't willing to play the game as the Giuliani campaign is trying to dictate it. Instead, the candidates could say they were getting ready for the big dance, which won't come until Feb. 5.
Thus the other Republicans ought to really make Florida a knock-out punch against Giuliani's campaign. The latest polls seem to indicate that even if Rudy wins, it's going to be a close one for him. And that's after the other candidates have done the hard work of winning contests in other states and haven't spent too much time in Florida. Giuliani achieving a difficult victory against challengers who don't even bother showing up will complete his transformation into an eccentric irrelevancy who is unproven in other states. By letting him have this one and focusing on the national primary day, Romney, McCain, and Huckabee can spend the next two weeks proving they are nationally palatable to the Republican Party and further thin out their herd.
Cross-posted from The Right's Field.