The Crowds Come Out For Rudy

(CBS)
From CBS News' Ryan Corsaro:

MIAMI -- While other Republican candidates try to draw momentum with South Carolina and Michigan primary wins, Rudy Giuliani is bathing in the warmth of strong turnouts in Florida.

In a testament to the investment he's made in this state, Giuliani's average crowd size has doubled, even quadrupled since he arrived.

Last night in Manatee County, around 700 people crowded a senior center -- and it wasn't just your ol' Aunt Hazel and Uncle Mac. Attendees are also more diverse than we've seen at earlier Giuliani events, in both gender and age -- even race.

Hispanic supporters packed the sidewalks with "Florida Is Rudy Country" signs at the Three Kings Parade in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood on Sunday -- Giuliani waved from an antique fire engine to the thousands of parade-goers, many of whom chanted "Viva Rudy!" and "El Presidente!"

Despite Florida's large population of retirees, it was teenagers who asked several questions at a standing room only town hall in Coral Springs, including 19-year-old Lauren McGowan.

"What would you do about stem cell research?" asked McGowan, who has cerebral palsy. "What is more important than life? It's the most important thing in the world."

Giuliani came down from the stage and walked toward Lauren's wheelchair. "I know it is," he said, taking her hand.

By the time Giuliani answered her question, McGowan was pleased. "I liked what he said. But I have to tell you, I'm a Democrat."

That probably wouldn't bother Giuliani. Florida is a swing state that came through with the critical Republican turnout George W. Bush needed to contest, and ultimately win, the presidential election in 2000. Giuliani hopes he can tap those voters again, along with many of the Italian-Americans and retired Northeast transplants that make up the state's population -- despite their party affiliation.

He's also pledged to campaign in all 50 states and win back several blue states that have voted for Democratic candidates in past elections. But winning Florida on January 29 and a large portion of the February 5 primaries is crucial to having that opportunity.

Florida is the state Giuliani has visited most -- today is his 43rd day here this year -- and where his poll numbers have been among the strongest in past months. It's also the crux of his campaign strategy -- the former mayor promises to sink "almost everything" left in his campaign money stash into the Sunshine State before it votes later this month. Either Giuliani takes the biggest bite of votes in this state or it's serious life support for his campaign.

Tomorrow, Giuliani continues campaigning across the state, touring by bus. Florida's Attorney General and Giuliani campaign chair Bill McCollum hopes to see crowds hit the 1,000 mark in Fort Meyers, where Giuliani will speak at the Shellpoint Retirement Center.

"I hope it's a huge turnout," says McCollum. "I worked hard to get the word out."
  • Ryan Corsaro

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