MIAMI (AFP) — Ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani took a further hit on Sunday, when a poll showed he dropped to fourth place ahead of Florida's Republican primary, which looked set to be a tight race between John McCain and Mitt Romney.
And, just days ahead of Tuesday's voting, McCain got a major boost with the endorsement of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who enjoys popularity levels of around 70 percent in the state.
The Arizona senator and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, both scored 30 percent of the vote in a Zogby poll out on Sunday.
Giuliani got only 13 percent, which placed him one percentage point behind former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
The ex-New York mayor has bet heavily on the Florida primary, campaigning almost exclusively in the southeastern state and staying away from the earlier elections in smaller states.
Giuliani shrugged off his poor showing in opinion polls, and predicted Sunday that his strategy of skipping the early primaries and focusing on Florida would be vindicated in Tuesday's vote.
"I'm confident that we're going to win," he told CBS television. "The people who won those (early) primaries, they got all the attention. Now what we have to do is establish ourselves here in Florida."
Tuesday's primary has the highest stakes to date. It will send 57 delegates to the national convention that will nominate the Republican presidential candidate in September.
The contest will also give the winner key momentum on the way to the February 5 "Super Tuesday," when voting will be held in more than 20 states.
With nine percent of likely voting Republicans in Florida remaining undecided, the candidates were campaigning hard and trading verbal blows.
McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, attacked Romney's position on Iraq, claiming his opponent wanted to pull troops out of Iraq. Adding insult to injury, McCain made the claim together with a renewed attack on Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton.
"If we surrender and wave the flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do, and withdraw as Governor Romney wanted to do, then there will be chaos, genocide," McCain said.
Romney, who denied he ever sought a specific date for withdrawal, shot back by saying his rival was desperate to shift the focus of the campaign away from the economy.
McCain meanwhile said he would be undeterred if he lost in Florida on Tuesday.
"I think we have good polling numbers throughout the nation and I think we go on," he told NBC. "I think it's going to be a close race here on Tuesday, but I think we got some good momentum."
In the Democratic nomination race, Hillary Clinton -- hoping to shift attention from her defeat in South Carolina on Saturday -- was focused on the Florida primary even though no delegates will be awarded from the contest.
The Democratic party stripped Florida of its nominating delegates after the state party advanced its primary into January in definace of the national party's rules.
And while all the Democratic candidates promised not to campaign there, Clinton made clear in recent days she is seeking a symbolic victory in the contest.
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