Following his disappointing third-place finish in Florida on Tuesday, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is expected to drop his presidential bid today and endorse Sen. John McCain, sending GOP operators around New Jersey into BlackBerry heat-seeking mode.
Senators Bill Baroni, McCain's state campaign chairman, and fellow McCain-backer Kevin O'Toole naturally believe Giuliani's supporters in New Jersey will find refuge in the McCain camp rather than in that of former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, who placed second in Florida and is still in the presidential hunt.
Romney State Campaign Chairman Joseph Kyrillos, a State Senator from Monmouth County, will be pressing the case for the Giuliani wayfarers to join Team Mitt.
Both sides are being very liberal in their use of the word "conservative." Kyrillos yesterday assembled a group of what a Romney Campaign press release called "conservative leaders." Baroni burnishes McCain's record in the U.S. Senate as a "fiscal conservative."
McCain would have the edge in New Jersey, where Giuliani held a commanding lead in polls here all the way up until the spotlight on other candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire – where Giulaini was not competitive by design – melted down his campaign.
In a Jan. 23 Quinnipiac University poll of likely Republican presidential primary voters, McCain received 29% to Giuliani's 26%, to Romney's 14%.
But Kyrillos is hopeful of coaxing support from those Republicans leery of McCain's votes against President George W. Bush's tax cuts, in addition to what Kyrillos said was McCain's later, campaign trail assertion that he would support the cuts.
Kyrillos made the point to a roomful of Republicans in Lincroft on Tuesday evening in response to a question about the perception that his presidential candidate is a flip-flopper on some issues. Kyrillos said the characterization is unfair and stems from Romney's public change on the issue of abortion. He was pro choice when he was Massachusetts governor and now he is pro life.
Kyrillos said his candidate is the conservative in the race, as evidenced in part by the endorsement of National Review.
While Baroni points to McCain's service in the military, and his consistency on foreign policy issues – notably the War in Iraq – Kyrillos emphasizes Romney's private sector credentials as a business turn-around artist.
"I want to again praise all the guys who are in this race," Kyrillos said of the other Republican presidential candidates. "They are all great men, but they would be miscast in the role of president, in my judgment."