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Giuliani fights political fall in Florida

  • Story Highlights
  • Giuliani once led in Florida, but now he's fighting for third, polls show
  • The former New York mayor skipped early voting states to focus on Florida
  • Giuliani has revamped his message to focus on the economy
  • Florida's primary is Tuesday
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(CNN) -- Just days away from the Florida primary, Rudy Giuliani has lost his grip on the state he once called "crucial" to his presidential chances.

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Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has invested a lot of time and money in his Florida campaign.

New polls out Thursday show Giuliani competing for third in Florida with barely-present Mike Huckabee and behind John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Giuliani, who has finished in the single digits in every contest so far, largely skipped the early voting states to focus on Florida and the Super Tuesday states voting on February 5.

The former New York mayor once led in Florida and most national polls, but his plummeting numbers are causing some to question his strategy.

"Rudy has fallen like the Dow Jones industrial average," said Bill Adair, chief editor of the St. Petersburg Times. "What's happened is he gambled on Florida and put all his chips on Florida, and it's beginning to look like he gambled wrong." Video Watch what's going on with Giuliani in Florida »

Giuliani's poor finishes have cast doubt on his viability, Adair said on CNN's "American Morning."

"What he miscalculated on is McCain and Romney and Huckabee all come with some momentum into Florida because they won other states, and Rudy doesn't have momentum," he said.

So far, McCain has won New Hampshire and South Carolina; Romney took Wyoming, Nevada and Michigan; and Huckabee came in first in Iowa.

Giuliani has revamped his message for Floridians. Early in his campaign, he portrayed himself as America's mayor, calling attention to his leadership following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

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As concerns about the economy top the worries of Republican voters, Giuliani's launched an ad that touts his fiscal record as mayor, and he's been touting his plans to cut taxes.

"The very best things we could do is a major stimulus package that would lower taxes, and lower taxes dramatically," Giuliani said in Orlando, Florida, on Monday.

"And that's why I proposed the largest tax reduction in American history."

Giuliani tells anyone who will listen -- he's the one with "proven leadership." There, his challenge is McCain of Arizona, who in a new Florida ad says, "There's no one more qualified to meet our national security threats. I've been dealing with these issues my entire adult life."

And Romney's hoping he can resonate with Floridians when it comes to the economy.

"I will go to Washington using the experience I have in the private sector -- in the real economy -- to strengthen our economy," the former Massachusetts governor said.

Giuliani on Wednesday told CNN's Larry King that he expects the polls to break his way this weekend.

But a break might not be enough. In an average of recent polls in Florida, Giuliani only registers 16 percent among Republican primary voters. That puts him in a tight race with Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, who has spent little time in the state and has only a fraction of the organization Giuliani has there.

McCain and Romney are in a close race for the top: McCain at 27 percent and Romney at 25 percent.

The average of polls includes three surveys conducted this week: MSNBC/McClatchy/Mason-Dixon, Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 and American Research Group.

"I think we're cracking through, but we'll see," Giuliani said. Video Watch Giuliani explain why he's optimistic »

According to pollsters, there's not much leeway in Florida. Compared to the other early contests, Florida has a relatively small number of undecided voters.

"I'm not sure he can make up that kind of ground between now and Tuesday," Adair said.

Giuliani will have a chance to go head-to-head with his rivals in a debate Thursday night, where he's expected to be on the attack in attempt to show he's still viable.

Giuliani on Wednesday maintained he would win the state next Tuesday, and said his strategy of focusing exclusively on Florida over the last month will prove to be the right one.

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"We are going to win in Florida, then we will be talking about exactly who made the right decisions," he said.

"This is truly a marathon, and you've got to remain focused on it that way and not get too upset about the things that go wrong or too excited about the things that go right." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dana Bash and Alex Mooney contributed to this report.

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