Giuliani goes after conservative votes

GULF BREEZE, Fla. -- After a dismal showing in the Michigan Republican primary, Rudy Giuliani intensified his strategy of appealing to conservative voters in Florida, but even some who attended his rallies worried he may not be conservative enough.

Giuliani, who finished sixth in Michigan after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, has been focusing his resources on winning the Florida primary Jan. 29, even forgoing any significant presence in South Carolina, which holds its primary Saturday.

In campaign stops on Florida's Panhandle Wednesday, Giuliani sought to appeal to the region's deeply conservative base, even as he touted his support for a federal catastrophe fund that would address an insurance crisis that has crippled Florida.

Tony Carbonetti, Giuliani's senior adviser, said Giuliani is "treating this as though it's 14 straight election days" until the primary, with intensified phone banks, door-to-door campaigning and a chase after absentee ballots.

His stops have been drawing large crowds, including one Wednesday at the Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, and audiences have been roused into chanting his name in advance of his appearances.

But many of those in attendance at the college and at another stop in Gulf Breeze expressed concerns about Giuliani's support for abortion rights, and some said they wanted him to be even tougher on illegal immigration.

Herb Cannon, assistant principal of Pace High School in Gulf Breeze, said he appreciated Giuliani's support for the catastrophe fund, but he had issues that overshadowed it. "Some of his personal policies I just don't agree with," he said, referring to the abortion stance. "Mike Huckabee has taken a stand that I support" and has earned Cannon's vote.

For some, Giuliani's decision to focus on Florida has proved baffling, even for supporters in Florida, many of whom worried about the signals it sent.

"It concerns me that he really hasn't campaigned a lot, and he's placing everything on Florida," said Henry Brittain of Panama City, who added that he'd "probably" vote for Giuliani. His daughter Jessica, a student, said she would vote for the former mayor, while his wife, Joy, will "vote for whoever can beat the Democrats."

Bob Wright, a retiree, put it more bluntly: "He squandered his lead," he said of Giuliani.

Fran Smith, a longtime fan of Giuliani, said she was "real disappointed" in the way he's run his campaign and the results it has brought thus far.

"I haven't seen him put out the effort yet," said the Panama City resident. "He seems to be saving himself for Florida."

But for every doubter at his rallies, there were clearly an equal number of supporters.

"He'll take Florida no doubt," said Joy Morgan of Panama City Beach. "I think it's so early and he's just getting into this. We do love him down here."

Giuliani didn't directly answer a reporter's question about his view of the Michigan results, saying only that he had called Mitt Romney to congratulate him on his win.

Carbonetti said the efforts here were paying off and would give Giuliani an advantage as Republican rivals begin revving up their Florida efforts this weekend. "We have the best ground game in Florida," he said.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service

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