Assessing Giuliani's Strategy

Rudy Giuliani's "29 Inning Strategy," as he called it yesterday, was based on several assumptions.

One was that the compression of the calendar created the conditions for several candidates to win early state contests. With the field scrambled, momentum would not flow to any single candidate, and would be available for the taking to the candidate who existed Feb. 5 with the most number of delegates.

A second was that delegates matter. Giuliani's campaign manager, Mike DuHaime, worked closely with Republican allies in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to change the delegate allocation rules from proportional to winner-take-all.

The third was that Giuliani would established a sandbar in Florida (heavy campaigning among the Cuban-American community, the New York ex-pats in South Florida, etc) and would maintain his lead through the primaries.

A fourth was that the evangelical base would not coalesce around a single candidate, but would, through the strength of Giuliani's commitment to fighting the war on terror (read: radical Islam) would wash away, to some extent, lingering doubts about his personal life.

These were sound assumptions. But three of them are in danger of being proved untrue. The evangelicals have found their candidate, and regardless of whether Huckabee drops out, they will be unified and in a mood to force their will on the rest of the party.

Giuliani faces a challenge from them -- either in Florida or beyond -- maybe even at the convention. Mitt Romney's careful cultivation of Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire and his efforts to burnish his national image are steadily narrowing the gap between him and Giuliani, and there is no reason, so long as Huckabee is still in the race, why Romney _has_ to win South Carolina in order to get the nomination.

In Florida, the sandbar has been breached. Mike Huckabee, who was nowhere a month ago, is suddenly either beating Giuliani or placing a close second to him. And this is before a single vote has been cast -- before any real momentum has been transferred to him.

The most important insight, I think, still holds: delegates matter. And Giuliani is in a position to exit February 5 with the most delegates. For now. His biggest threat remains a Mitt Romney, having won Iowa and New Hampshire and opened his checkbook... which is why, despite the downside risk, the Giuliani campaign is comfortable with Mike Huckabee's rise.