I thought for sure he’d hang around for New York and California, if only not to disappoint his supporters with a one-and-done down south. But McCain’s crushing him in both states now, so much so that he may not even need Giuliani to drop out and free up centrist voters. With no leverage to make a deal and no hope of competing unless he pulls a miracle tomorrow night, what’s the point in sticking around just to get blown out on his home field?

Bottom line: A guy in third place doesn’t raise expectations unless he’s looking for an escape hatch.

Rudy Giuliani appears to be pondering an end to his long pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination.

In a meeting in the back of his chartered plane en route to St. Petersburg, Fla., a short while ago, the onetime, longtime GOP front-runner told a small group of reporters, including The Times’ Louise Roug: “The winner of Florida will win the nomination.”

That’s an unusually categorical statement suggesting that only a total upset for Giuliani, who trails both Mitt Romney and John McCain in all major polls for Florida’s Republican primary tomorrow, will keep him in the competition, despite previous repeated vows to continue…

In his meeting with reporters today, Giuliani added that, no matter what happens Tuesday, he definitely would participate in the Republican debate co-sponsored by The Times on Wednesday at the Reagan Library.

He’s going to debate, then drop out? Why? WaPo’s hearing rumbles, too:

Giuliani’s plans [for Super Tuesday] are perhaps the most up in the air and will change according to the outcome of the Florida primary, aides said. A surprise victory might open the door to visits in other states, they said. A defeat probably would force him to pull back and concentrate on his home state, though recent polls show him struggling in New York as well as in California. His advisers have long suggested that both states are must-wins if he wants to secure the nomination.

A loss in Florida could also end Giuliani’s campaign. Advisers say he will consider the downside to fighting on to Feb. 5, including the potential for an embarrassing loss in his home state, the likelihood that he could finish at the bottom in more than a dozen states and a lack of money to continue.

Exit question one: Assuming the predicted catastrophe comes to pass, who ran a worse campaign — Fred or Rudy? Exit question two, to the long-suffering Paulnuts: How good do you feel about outlasting Giuliani? And, follow-up, is your enjoyment at all compromised by the fact that the rEVOLution is still running at about one-half or even one-third of even Rudy’s collapsed popularity?