SUNNY ISLES BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - The stubborn defiance that endeared Rudy Giuliani to millions of Americans on September 11, 2001, was on open display on Tuesday as the tough-talking former New York mayor made his final push for Florida votes at a Jewish deli.
"We are going to win today and then we will get the nomination," Giuliani said, ignoring polls that had him running a poor third to Arizona Sen. John McCain and ex-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential contest in Florida, the state where he staked his political fortunes.
If the man whose international stature rose from the smoke and ash of the al Qaeda attacks six years ago was making his final stand, he did it with the brash confidence that marked his tenure as anti-mob prosecutor, crime-fighting mayor and icon of one of the worst days in American history.
"The votes are there," he said, adding that "polls and predictions have been wrong."
"That poll in New Hampshire had Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton, and it turned out the other way," he said of an earlier contest of Democrats in the state-by-state process to select the Republican and Democratic nominees for the November election.
Giuliani, who parlayed his September 11 fame into a fortune on the lecture circuit and a bid for the White House, shook hands, autographed baseballs and opted for cereal and coffee instead of bagels and lox (smoked salmon) as he talked politics at the Rascal House deli in the Miami suburb of Sunny Isles Beach.
"This is how you do it. You do it one vote at a time," Giuliani told a foreign journalist. "I'm glad you're getting to see how American democracy works."
He was the early front-runner, leading national polls for months until his recent fade in Florida. A Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll on Tuesday had him at 13 percent as voters went to the polls in the fourth most-populous U.S. state, compared to 35 percent for McCain and 31 percent for Romney.
His decline is likely due to a number of reasons.
But analysts say Giuliani may have suffered from his decision to bypass presidential contests in other states to concentrate on Florida, and his hawkish aim to stay "on the offensive" in the U.S. war on terrorism while war-weary voters became increasingly concerned about economic issues.
Giuliani talked hopefully about moving on to California on Wednesday to campaign in the most populous state holding a contest next week, but his campaign aides have said it would be tough for him to continue if he loses Florida.
Among a small group of supporters and detractors at Lox Around the Clock, a deli in Delray Beach, Florida, was Mary Flynn, a New Yorker who said she came to watch "the last minutes of a political career."
"I have a particular dislike for this guy and how he exploited 9/11," she said.
Still, Giuliani has fans among Florida's large community of transplanted New Yorkers, some of whom remember him as the man who cleaned up the crime-ridden Big Apple and others as the American leader who stood strong on September 11.
"All I know is he's got two votes already, mine and my wife's," said Sid Glouser, a 77-year-old retiree from Boynton Beach.
"I think he inspired the whole country after 9/11," said Glouser. "He and George Bush."
(Additional reporting by Tom Brown in Delray Beach, Florida)
Editing by Michael Christie and Vicki Allen