Battle for Florida

This is a rush transcript from "The Big Story With John Gibson and Heather Nauert," January 24, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HEATHER NAUERT, CO-HOST: Now we're on to brand new developments on the campaign trail. Rudy Giuliani is slipping in Florida. New GOP Florida polls show that John McCain is leading the pack with Mitt Romney right on his heels and Giuliani trailing a bit behind now fighting for third place.

The candidates are hitting Florida voters hard ahead of next week's primary, including Rudy Giuliani who skipped out on the early voting states in order to focus 100 percent of his efforts on the Sunshine State.

Today he says he does not regret the campaign strategy.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that it was politically correct thing to focus on Florida, and it was the best choice when you consider all the circumstances that were presented to us about resources and about strengths and weaknesses and a place where you can make your case the most effectively, and the fact that this is a wide open race means that no, I don't think it was a mistake.


JOHN GIBSON, CO-HOST: All eyes will be on Florida's primary next Tuesday, January 29th. It is the last major contest for Republicans paving the way to Super Tuesday. So could it be all over for Rudy Giuliani in less than a week if he loses Florida? Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer joins us now.

So, you know, Ari, you heard Rudy say it was the best choice given his resources and so forth. I'm sure he thought it was at the time. Should he think it was the best choice now?

ARI FLEISCHER, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: Well, frankly, I think Rudy could have and should have made a much stronger play in New Hampshire. I think he should have ignored Iowa in its entirety and made a serious play in New Hampshire. He is being dogged by that now.

I do think it comes down to Tuesday in Florida for Rudy's campaign. No one should rule him out and we shouldn't place to much of an emphasis on the polls. The voters will decide, not the polls. And that has been the practice this whole campaign season. But if he loses, then it's very hard to see how Rudy can really go on.

NAUERT: Earlier today he said something about how he wouldn't necessarily get out of the race if he did lose Florida. Do you believe him on that?

FLEISCHER: Well, the interesting dynamic of course is with no predominant frontrunner, there is also no downside in staying in to see if something happens on February 5th, or it stays in such a muddled position that you can stay in the race longer and become a regional candidate with strength. That's probably why people aren't willing to drop out yet other than Fred Thompson.

NAUERT: But do you have the money to stay in? A lot of states that are going to be extremely expensive, California, New York, et cetera, does Giuliani have enough money to stick with it?

FLEISCHER: Heather, no one will have enough money other than Mitt Romney. But I think what we're going to find out is if you split the vote enough ways, money won't be as determinative as it usually is in politics. You can still hang in there, because there is, still is no frontrunner.

I think the other interesting story in Florida is, can John McCain finally win a primary where only Republicans vote? In South Carolina, which John McCain won last week, he would have lost the South Carolina Primary to Mike Huckabee if only Republicans voted. John won on the strength of independents and Democrats, who made up about 31 percent of the vote in South Carolina.

GIBSON: Well, that leads to our question. In Florida, it's no sunshine for Rudy. Is the McCain surge there real?

FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think anybody is surging. I think the polls show things are much too tight, much too close and the voters keep changing the polls and making things unknown. So the only thing that is a safe assumption is there a race in Florida among Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain. If John McCain wins Florida, it really propels him forward. I think Florida will be a vital, crucial state to John McCain if he wins it. But John has yet to show that he can win a Republican-only primary.

GIBSON: What about if Romney wins it?

FLEISCHER: Well, if Romney wins it, then I think you really start to get to a Romney-McCain battle on February 5th. And I wouldn't be surprised if anybody can cast a knockout blow on February 5th. I think it keeps going longer into February.

GIBSON: Wow, Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary, Ari, it is good to talk to you, always, thanks.

FLEISCHER: Thanks, John.

NAUERT: Thanks, Ari.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Heather.

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