VERO BEACH, FL -- Marie Muccioli doesn't get it.
She had just attended a Rudy Giuliani event at an Italian-American social club here on Sunday afternoon that drew hundreds of rabid supporters, prompting the fire marshal to turn away latecomers at the door.
"I was in New York when he was mayor, and I saw what he did for New York City," said Muccioli, describing why she is supporting Giuliani.
The former Brooklynite who splits her time between here and New Jersey but votes in Florida wore four "Rudy" stickers, including one on her forehead.
She is perplexed by news reports that have largely written off Giuliani's chances in the Sunshine State, because they are contradicted by her personal experiences.
"I was campaigning and holding signs in front of the library, and the cars were coming across, we got toots, and out of 10 cars that passed, I'd say seven of them were for Rudy," she recounted. "I don't understand what's going on. I think the polls are all screwed up, personally."
In the final days before the Republican primary, the press corps has narrowed the field in Florida to a two-man race between Mitt Romney and John McCain. Their conclusion is backed up by polls consistently showing Giuliani trailing in the double digits. (Reuters/Zogby even had him slipping into fourth place, just behind Mike Huckabee.) In another blow to the campaign, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who Giuliani courted heavily, threw his support behind McCain over the weekend.
BUT UNLIKE THE DAYS before the New Hampshire primary, when Giuliani was drawing small, sleepy crowds that reflected his sagging poll numbers, down here in Florida, the former New York mayor is often speaking to packed rooms filled with enthusiastic supporters.
Last Thursday, McCain took out a huge ballroom at a convention center in West Palm Beach, obviously hoping for a massive turnout for a town hall meeting. But before the event started, campaign staff had to pull chairs, and there were still over 100 empty ones. The event itself was relatively subdued, with just about a dozen audience members waving signs.
Shortly after the McCain event, Giuliani spoke about 40 minutes away in Boca Raton, and though the room was smaller, the crowd size was about the same. However, the event was higher energy, with much of the standing audience waving "Rudy Country" signs and breaking out into spontaneous chants of "RU-DY" on several occasions.
The next day, Giuliani addressed a senior citizens' health center in Little Havana for elderly Cuban Americans where he spoke glowingly of the community for demonstrating that if people are given the opportunity to live in freedom, they can overcome any obstacles before them.
"Most of you came here with very little money in your pockets, many of you didn't speak English," he said. "New country, very different, very big, very confusing. But you brought with you what's inside your soul. And no tyrant, no dictator, no bully, can take that away from you, and you proved that."
As he recalled his actions as mayor, including his refusal to invite Fidel Castro to the 50th Anniversary celebration for the United Nations because Castro was a "vicious dictator," a woman in the front row chimed in.
"You no just talk now, you talk before, before, when you mayor of New York!" she shouted, referring to his long support for the Cuban-American community, and the crowd erupted in cheers.
GIULIANI'S RECEPTION was much the same on Sunday morning at a synagogue in Boca Raton, where the speaker who introduced him reminded the audience of when Giuliani kicked Yasser Arafat out of Lincoln Center and rejected a $10 million check from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal after the prince suggested that U.S. support for Israel was the cause of the September 11 attacks.
Donning a black yarmulke, Giuliani spoke about his long-standing relationship with Israel and the Jewish community. He declared that the only way there can be peace in the region is if the Palestinians accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, renounce terrorism, demonstrate that they are taking actions to do so, and establish institutions of good governance. The crowd, some of whom wore Giuliani buttons written in Hebrew, ate it up.
The outpouring of support for Giuliani can be seen as evidence that Giuliani's position in Florida is not as weak as polls suggests, or, alternatively, a reminder of his potential in the state had he been competitive enough in the early contests to establish himself as a viable candidate.
As Giuliani's supporters are finding out, when a candidate isn't a factor for much of the presidential race, he gets written out of the media narrative.
"Rudy is a good guy. It's just sad that they're not giving him enough time," Muccioli lamented. "He's got such wonderful ideas."
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