Giuliani and McCain leave Florida to seek more campaign funds

Presidential race heats up

01/23/2008 9:57 AM

01/23/2008 10:01 AM

MIAMI -- Less than a week before Florida's Republican primary, a money crunch is settling in, prompting Rudy Giuliani and John McCain to park their Florida bus tours Tuesday and zip to New York City for quick cash infusions.

Mitt Romney didn't have to. The millionaire businessman stayed in Florida and put up yet another TV ad, pitching his business skills as an antidote to a slumping economy.

"There will be opportunity for our economic sector to come back, but it is going to require action on the part of leadership in Washington to convince the world that America will come back strong," Romney said in Boca Raton. He was making his pitch to a group of Jewish Republicans, one of the many constituencies the GOP hopefuls are racing to woo as they crisscross the state.

Polls show a near dead heat among McCain, Giuliani and Romney.

McCain, who courted military veterans across Florida's conservative Panhandle, was to return late Tuesday for an economic roundtable in Orlando today.

Giuliani, who reiterated his support for a national catastrophe fund in Palm Beach, will be back today for a rally near Fort Myers.

"It's an important thing for Florida, but I do think it's an important thing for the rest of the country," Giuliani said of the federal backstop. "And it is an area in which I am the strongest supporter of it of the candidates that are running on the Republican side."

'Difficult and dangerous times'

"These are difficult and dangerous times," McCain said at rallies in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach. He was accompanied on stage by Col. Bud Day, who languished in a prisoner of war camp with him during the Vietnam War. "I've spent my life preparing to lead this nation."

McCain's campaign said the New York fund-raiser long has been on the schedule and that fund raising is "going exceptionally well."

"Folks are calling me, asking, 'How do I give? Where do I give?' " said Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist and major McCain fund-raiser. He said he expected McCain's campaign -- which is holding at least five Florida fund-raisers before Tuesday's vote -- to raise as much money in Florida this week as it did in Florida last year.

Buoyed by McCain's victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Ballard said, the campaign is looking to poach donors from other campaigns, including contributors to Fred Thompson, who dropped out Tuesday.

"Our guys are emboldened," Ballard said. "After spending six to seven months being laughed at, snickered at, we're not above calling a Romney or a Giuliani money person and saying, 'Hey, maybe it's time to hedge your bets a little bit.'

"And they're not above hedging their bets a little bit," he said.

Romney, who has contributed millions to his campaign, continued chugging across the state aboard his "Mitt Mobile." Asked if his considerable wealth is giving him the edge in Florida -- where a week of TV ads can cost $1 million -- Romney disputed that dollars are an issue.

"I don't know that that's the key feature in Florida," he said, noting that he has "sufficient funds to keep the campaign going" and adding that "surely everyone has sufficient funds to keep their campaigns going for another week."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who boasts a grassroots campaign but few dollars, has been largely unprepared to compete in Florida, lacking, as he noted, a single staff member or a field operation.

He spent Tuesday in Georgia, courting conservatives at a rally for a state constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

He's scheduled to attend a Panhandle fund-raiser today, but appears to be targeting states with larger bases of evangelical voters.

His campaign says it won't be able to compete in the ad wars in Florida -- all his rivals are running TV ads -- and may concentrate its media buys on radio, particularly Christian radio.

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