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Sunset State

Florida is where New Yorkers go to die.

Unsurprising, then, that Rudy Giuliani’s campaign, which had started in the grandeur of double-digit leads in national polls, would crawl from bungalow to bungalow on the I-4 corridor before unceremoniously collapsing in tatty defeat at his headquarters in Orlando. Reeling from a crushing 15 percent third-place finish behind $30 million ad-man Mitt Romney and undisputed frontrunner John McCain, and barely edging ahead of Mike Huckabee -- who grabbed 14 percent of the vote despite running his entire campaign on $17.62, a bass guitar, Chuck Norris’ soul-smashing fists and two hands on a Bible -- Mr. America’s Mayor radiated resignation in his concession speech. “You should be very proud of your participation in that process!” Giuliani gamely acknowledged his young supporters for their efforts in his campaign. That’s the new motto of the Join Rudy campaign: Proud Participant.

But he had to see this one coming. Skipping the early primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina to bet the farm on Florida in what came to be known as his “big state strategy,” Rudy’s plan was actually a good one; it just suffered from a terminally uninspiring candidate. After McCain, Romney and Huckabee squabbled over the early contests and came to Florida, low on cash and desperately seeking a win ahead of Super Tuesday, all Rudy would have to do was hold onto his commanding lead. Or so the script went.

Once peaking nationally at 38 percent with a 2-1 cushion over any rivals, Giuliani’s firewall in Florida quickly disintegrated into a dead heat and then a two-man Romney/McCain race in a matter of weeks. Supporters, critics and reporters alike took turns ripping the mayor’s tired stump speeches that quickly rotted in the humid air. Campaign donations dried up and advertising disappeared from the airwaves. On his last day of campaigning, in a fit of desperation, Rudy broke with his characteristic media skittishness and invited the press on board his chartered 727 scheduled to make barnstorming stops at rallies throughout the state. Michael Cooper of the New York Times said no audience was larger than a hundred, adding, “the crowds at some of the airport rallies were so small that it might have been more efficient to fly them to the candidate, instead of vice versa.” In political terms, that is what’s known, affectionately, as a Manhattan bitch-slap.

Not even Oscar winner Jon Voight could stem the tide turning against the mayor. He tried, of course, stumping for Rudy and giving a commendable performance in Fort Meyers when he reportedly proclaimed that, “God sent an angel; his name was Rudy Giuliani.” Later, when confronted by paltry crowds, columnist Dana Milbank heard Voight gush, “This is like the Beatles or something!” My guess it was the Something -- that same Something that has remained as ephemeral and joyfully ludicrous as the Win that Rudy insisted was just around the bend. “We are going to win today and then we will get the nomination,” Giuliani promised, incessantly, until the very end.

So what can we take from the Sunshine State? First, the delegateless Democratic pasting of Obama, 50 percent to 33 percent, was the one bright spot to Hillary Clinton’s week after losing the South Carolina primary and the endorsement of Ted Kennedy and his portion of the Camelot clan. Second, McCain’s 36 percent winning coalition consisted significantly of old people and Cubans, which suggests that he may want to speak Very Loudly and En Español at future rallies to drum up similar support. Third, Romney just purchased the most expensive silver medal in the democratic world. Fourth and finally, in spite of their previous troubles, Floridians are still keen on trying this “voting” thing, and even though it is still very confusing, it is a welcome break from golf, the Miami Heat and those insufferable New Yorkers who come down for the winter and think they own the place. – Joe Horton

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