TAMPA, Fla. "How," Rudolph Giuliani asked a sweaty crowd of snowbirds and Northeastern transplants in Estero, Fla., the other day, "can you not be happy when you're here?"
He was admiring Florida's balmy weather and casual lifestyle, but the question held significance for his presidential aspirations. The former mayor of New York has spent more time in Florida than any other candidate. Now it's crunch time. Will he be happy he stayed so long when the GOP primary votes are counted Tuesday?
Florida statewide polls are discouraging. Giuliani has slipped to third in the Republican field, behind John McCain and Mitt Romney, who were basically tied.
Only a few months ago, Giuliani was riding high in Florida. What happened?
Nori Lapes, 39, of Boca Raton, who makes calls for Giuliani's phone bank, pinpointed her candidate's problem: "He hasn't won in those other states. He didn't compete, and people don't like that. It was too risky a strategy."
Lapes said voters often tell her they're deciding between Giuliani and McCain, the senator from Arizona.
She went to see Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition of Florida in Boca Raton.
She was impressed with Romney's speaking ability, his strong support of Israel and his denunciation of "radical jihadism."
Giuliani and Romney, the venture capitalist, both want to make permanent President Bush's tax cuts, eliminate the estate tax and cut corporate tax rates. Sometimes the choice comes down to presence.
The economy and the war are important to Myka Staryk Monson, 36, of Boca Raton. She's backing Romney.
"I can't see Hillary Clinton sitting down with some sheik somewhere if they'd even sit down with her. And McCain's demeanor is too rigid and militaristic," she said. "We need someone who's smooth."
She's glad Romney is willing to spend his own personal fortune on his campaign. He has agreed to spend as much as $40 million of his reported $250 million to run for president, according to The Wall Street Journal.
"It means he won't owe anybody anything," Monson said.
Richard Amann, 72, who runs an online publishing business in Estero, is deciding between Giuliani and Romney. Amann, who has lived in New York and Boston, wants a president who's a strong executive. He praised Romney's business experience.
"He is an executive officer who has executive experience. When you step into that Oval Office, you better know how to run an office."Amann has until Tuesday to decide whom to make happy in the Sunshine State.
Marsha Mercer is Washington bureau chief of Media General News Service.