By Elinor Shields
Rudy Giuliani's quest to win the Republican nomination appears to be struggling, as new polls put the former front-runner third in his key state of Florida and behind on his home turf of New York.
The former mayor of New York has staked his presidential dream on skipping early contests to fight for delegate-rich Florida, in a push to win the Republican primary on 29 January.
Rudy has devoted almost two months to delegate-rich Florida
If all goes to plan, this could launch him to the front of the field before "Super Tuesday" on 5 February, when more than 20 states decide.
Yet polls released this week show Mr Giuliani trailing early primary winners Mitt Romney and John McCain in the Sunshine State, as others suggest he has slipped behind Mr McCain in New York.
But, while the man dubbed "America's mayor" after 9/11 may be down, analysts refuse to call him out, in a race confounding predictions amid an unsettled Republican field.
The situation is "extraordinarily fluid", Doug Muzzio, professor of public affairs at Baruch College in New York City, told the BBC.
"In a sense, this is a 'nobody knows anything' election. It's glorious chaos."
Mr Giuliani may have devoted nearly two months to campaigning in Florida, but polls suggest the high-risk investment has not been paying off.
A survey released on 23 January by Florida's St Petersburg Times puts Mr Giuliani at 15%, tied with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and trailing both Arizona Senator McCain at 25% and former Massachusetts Governor Mr Romney, at 23%.
Giuliani's campaign team say he will fight as hard as anybody
The paper's November poll put the former New York mayor in front of Mr Romney by nearly two to one.
Analysts cite scant news media coverage, a strategy centred on national security as the faltering economy captured concerns and Mr McCain's surge following wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina as factors in Mr Giuliani's evaporated lead.
And the Arizona senator has now expanded his challenge to the former mayor's turf, where polls last month saw Mr Giuliani leading the Republican race by up to 33%.
A WNBC/Marist poll in New York released earlier this week showed 34% of registered Republicans supporting Mr McCain, with 23% for Mr Giuliani. Another poll by Siena College pointed to a 12-point deficit: 36% to 24%.
"While America's mayor still has strong support among New York City Republicans, he is getting beat by McCain in the suburbs and trounced upstate," Siena spokesman Steven Greenberg said in a report.
But on the streets of the city, Mr Giuliani's falling fortunes were met with mixed feelings.
For independent voter Karen Hirsch, he did a "great job" as mayor, but "it's not enough to qualify as president".
"I like his zero tolerance policy on crime," the 44-year-old pet-shop delivery co-ordinator told the BBC.
"He provided genuine leadership after 9/11, unlike the White House. But, unfortunately, he hasn't enough national or international experience."
But Bambi Russo-Resto, 47, a real-estate manager, lawyer and registered Republican, believes the drop is "well-deserved".
"It was Rudy's way or the highway," she said. "That's not how it works."
Republican Daniel McGuinness said that Rudy was "taking credit for things he never did".
"He makes all his issues on 9/11. But the rescue workers? He betrayed every one of them," the 60-year-old said.
Mr Giuliani, meanwhile, has sought to salvage his campaign by broadening his message to pledge tax cuts - in widely televised ads - and push "economic security".
No campaign spokesperson was available for comment at the time of writing, but his team offered observations on the Florida fight after Monday's poll release.
"Obviously, you'd always rather be ahead than behind in these things, but we always knew when we built this strategy that Iowa and New Hampshire would be the hard part for us," said chief strategist Brent Seaborn, quoted by the New York Times.
"I think when the circus finally comes to town, we'll certainly have the strongest grass-roots operation in the state," he said. "When the time is right, Rudy will fight as hard as anybody."
It all comes down to Florida, Professor Muzzio says. "If Rudy doesn't win or come in almost first he's in deep trouble."
But if Mr Giuliani wins it's "another new ballgame", with 5 February "more important but less determinative", he added.
And correspondents say the primary contests to date in this volatile political season suggest the danger of speculation.
"With a contest in chaos, predictions are futile," the New York Times' John Harwood warned earlier this week.
"People paying close attention to the 2008 presidential race have no idea what will happen next."