Rudy fades in California

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who for months was the first presidential choice of California Republicans, may have blown it.

A new statewide Field Poll is the latest survey to confirm that Giuliani, who sat out the first round of primaries to concentrate on the big states such as Florida and California, has slipped behind Arizona Sen. John McCain and other Republican hopefuls.

Ten months ago, Giuliani claimed more than a third of California GOP voters in the Field Poll, with McCain the only other candidate reaching double digits. But the latest survey, taken this month, found that he had slipped to 11 percent behind McCain at 22 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 18 percent — before Fred Thompson’s withdrawal on Tuesday.

Giuliani’s slippage in California first became evident last fall as presidential campaigning began in earnest, but has been especially dramatic in the last month, with his support now less than half of the 25 percent he still held in December.

The dramatic shift — McCain has nearly doubled his support in the past month after strong primary showings — illustrates the very fluid nature of the multi-candidate contest and, perhaps, the fickleness of GOP voters this year.

The two major parties differ sharply in their internal dynamics, with endorsements by major party figures and constituent groups wielding great influence among Democrats while ideology and personality dominate the GOP side of the equation.

It had been something of an anomaly that Giuliani, a New Yorker who is emblematic of the more moderate GOP wing, should have enjoyed such strong support for so many months among California Republicans, half of whom identify themselves as strong conservatives. The California party has a history of voting its ideological heart and favoring candidates who have little or no chance of winning statewide elections.

To overcome that ingrained disdain for RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), Giuliani needed not only to punch up his California campaigning, but also to demonstrate in other states that he’s a winner. And when he failed to nurture his thin support in California, it would appear from the Field Poll, conservatives drifted toward Romney while moderates embraced McCain, who also has been given the RINO label on occasion.

Field found that McCain has a 3-1 lead among Republicans describing themselves as moderately conservative, moderate or liberal, while Romney wins the support of strongly conservative GOP voters. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who appears to be fading after his early win in Iowa, leads among self-described born-again Christians, but his backing among those voters has declined, with Romney picking up the defectors.

With McCain claiming scarcely a fifth of California Republicans and their fickleness already evident, it’s possible that the positions could change again in the remaining two weeks of campaigning before the Feb. 5 election. Were McCain to continue racking up victories elsewhere, he could solidify his lead here. Were Giuliani to revive himself next week in Florida, it’s possible he could make a comeback in California, where none of the GOP hopefuls has a natural affinity.

The Field Poll found that with Thompson out, most of his support would flow mostly to either Giuliani or Romney, especially the latter; thus, with the California GOP’s conservative bent, it’s certainly possible that Romney could win in the state.

Finally, were California’s Republicans to continue to scatter their support, the state could find itself making little difference, since the GOP awards its convention delegates on the basis of winning in the state’s 53 congressional districts, rather than the statewide vote. The delegation could eventually be divided three or even four ways.

(Contact Dan Walters at dwalters(at)