SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani officially dropped out of the Republican presidential race Wednesday and endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain, calling him the "most qualified candidate to be the next commander-in-chief of the United States."
Speaking at Ronald Reagan's presidential library just hours before a GOP presidential debate, Giuliani called McCain the Republican Party's best hope to win the election in November and a transformational force who will make the GOP a more broad-based inclusive party that can compete nationwide.
"One that competes for urban and rural voters of all races and all religions in all 50 states," he said. "
McCain said he was grateful for the endorsement and called his former rival "my strong right arm and my partner."
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Giuliani's announcement came after his disappointing third-place finish in Tuesday's Florida Republican primary, which McCain won. The former mayor said that endorsing McCain was a no-brainer, since he'd decided long ago to back him if he himself wasn't the Republican nominee.
"...In my particular case it is not difficult, because if I endorsed anyone else he (McCain) would say I was flip-flopping after having already endorsed John," Giuliani said in a not to subtle dig at Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, McCain's chief rival for the Republican nomination and a man frequently criticized by rivals as a chronic flip-flopper.
Giuliani's dismal showing in Florida capped a dramatic political slide from national GOP presidential front-runner to also-ran -- thanks in part to a campaign strategy that deliberately bypassed the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.
Giuliani's critics and supporters blamed his fall on the unconventional campaign strategy that focused more on collecting convention delegates than on notching early primary victories. Conventional political wisdom is that success in the early primaries produces momentum, which leads to later primary wins, which leads to delegates enough delegates for the party nomination.
"His campaign was built on the assumption that it could do it their way," said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac University's Polling Institute. "The message back was 'Don't mess with Mother Nature and skip Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.' It's tough to tout yourself as the most electable Republican when week after week you're getting beat by (Rep.) Ron Paul."
It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 2007 Giuliani was riding high in the national polls, despite being a thrice-married supporter of abortion rights, gun control, civil unions for gay couples -- positions anathema to the conservative Republican base.
Giuliani's campaign carried an air of inevitability early on: It rarely mentioned GOP rivals by name and constantly touted Giuliani as the only Republican candidate strong enough to defeat Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in November.
Campaign officials said Giuliani's national lead was "momentum proof," insisting that he could lose the early primary states, win Florida and take major Feb. 5 states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California.
The "momentum proof" line came back to haunt the campaign as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee got momentum from winning in Iowa, McCain benefited by winning in New Hampshire, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got momentum by winning Michigan.
Giuliani, meanwhile, fell off the media radar screen and, at times, looked like a candidate in search of an issue as he campaigned for weeks almost exclusively in Florida. Toughness against terrorism was supposed to be his signature because of his handling of New York after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
But terrorism became less of an issue to voters, supplanted by economic fears .In addition, Giuliani found himself mired in bad press toward the end of the year, highlighted by the indictment of Bernard Kerik, his former police commissioner, on federal corruption charges.
"The success of the surge in Iraq was an enormous boost to McCain - his rise was Rudy's fall," said Fred Siegel, a one-time Giuliani adviser and author of "The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York, and the Genius of American Life." "You put that together with the wave of bad publicity and a lack of a crisis in the world - Rudy is a man made for emergencies - and you have a problem."
But Giuliani's campaign failed to adjust. It bristled at criticism of the strategy, dismissing it in a Dec. 31, 2007 memo as old-school "Carter/Clinton" thinking that the early states were essential.
"History will prove us right," Giuliani Strategy Director Brent Seaborn wrote in the memo.
"History is right, Rudy Giuliani is wrong," Brown said. "What Giuliani had early on was name identification. The other candidates were able to catch up to him in name ID. His advantage was lost after that."
(Lightman reported from Simi Valley, Calif., and Douglas from Washington.)