Rudy Giuliani doesn’t seem to be worried about the fact that he is not leading in the polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, the states that hold the earliest nominating contests. He appears to be depending on a win in Florida on January 29th, followed up with wins in New York, New Jersey, California, and elsewhere on February 5th, to propel him to the Republican presidential nomination. If that’s his strategy, it is indeed a risky one. He can just ask former Vice President Al Gore.
In 1988, four years before being elected vice president, Gore made his initial run for the presidency. He used a strategy similar to the one Giuliani seems to have in mind — and it flopped miserably. That year, Gore, then a freshman senator from Tennessee, laid low in Iowa and New Hampshire, not putting much time or effort into either of those states. Consequently, he finished near the bottom of the pack in both. However, this didn’t matter much to him, as he believed his status as the only southerner in the race holding elective office would guarantee his dominance in the southern primaries, which would ultimately get him the nod for the Democratic presidential nomination.
What Gore didn’t count on was the fact that then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis would be able to use the momentum from his win in New Hampshire, along with his ability to speak fluent Spanish, to grab victories in the two most populous southern states, Texas and Florida. While those were the only two southern states that Dukakis won, they were all he needed to secure the nomination, combined with his dominance of the Northeast, upper Midwest, and the west coast. Gore ended up splitting the remainder of Dixie with Jesse Jackson and did not win a single state outside the South. As result, Gore finished well behind Dukakis, and even Jackson, in the final delegate count.
Since the primaries and caucuses have been the vehicles used to pick the nominees in each party, only two Democratic presidential candidates (George McGovern in 1972, and Bill Clinton in 1992) have managed to get nominated despite having lost both Iowa and New Hampshire. And even they had to finish a competitive second in New Hampshire in order to accomplish this feat. However, in this same era, no GOP presidential candidate has been able to win his party’s nomination without first carrying Iowa or New Hampshire. History is obviously not on Giuliani’s side.