From NBC/NJ's Matthew E. Berger
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A campaign aide just walked onto our bus to announce Giuliani was picking up an endorsement.
The new Giuliani backer -- Johnny Damon of the New York Yankees.
Damon will introduce Giuliani at the first event this morning, a rally at the Presidential Ballroom at Church Street.
No word yet on how talks for the coveted Hideki Matsui endorsement are going...
*** UPDATE *** With polls showing Giuliani down in even his home state, the former New York City found a local slugger to go to bat for him. New York Yankees centerfielder Johnny Damon stumped for Giuliani Monday at the Presidential Ballroom at Church Street, which he said was right down the block from his local home.
"Rudy comes and visits me at the ballpark quite a bit, so I figure I could drive down the street and visit him here," he said. "Rudy has done such a great job for New York. After the terrorism, he stepped up and he made New York closer, he made America closer and he's gonna make this country a better place."
Accpeting Damon's endorsement, Giuliani said he would prefer to be in Florida during spring training season, and new polling numbers makes that seem more plausible.
A new Siena Research Institute poll found McCain leading Giuliani in New York by 12 points, garnering 36 percent compared to Giuliani's 24 percent. That's a steep change from December, when Giuliani had a healthy 48 percent and McCain had 15 percent. The poll has a 3.9 percent margin of error.
Campaign aides have said they expected McCain to surge after winning New Hampshire and South Carolina and for the race to tighten up while Giuliani waited to make a stand in New York. But the results show how much he has been hurt by poor showings in early states, and the importance of a Florida victory. The campaign believes that a win in Florida on Jan. 29 - and some are suggesting even a strong second place showing -- would boost Giuliani and make up ground in states that once seemed definitive Rudy country.
The results also beg the question whether Giuliani will need to spend limited time and resources in the tri-state area before Feb. 5, even if he wins Florida. Any time he needs to spend in the Northeast could hurt his chances in toss-up states like California, Illinois and Missouri, where campaign aides said they would be focusing.
Giuliani went back on the offensive against McCain Monday on tax cuts.
"I supported the Bush tax cuts," Giuliani said. "John McCain sided with the Democrats and voted against the Bush tax cuts. Mitt Romney was equivocal in his support of the Bush tax cuts."
Giuliani also took a moment to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.
"This is the day in which we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who did so much to combat racism by using non-violence and prayer, and then even beyond that, brought us to a much greater understanding of tolerance and equality and equality of opportunity," he said. "He was a leader, and that's what America needs."
Giuliani was also met with the largest group of members of the International Association of Fire Fighters thus far. A handful of the group's members stood outside of the banquet hall, and when Giuliani emerged, yelled "Shame on Rudy."
NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli adds that while New York is celebrating the Giants, Rudy Giuliani made a direct appeal to the many Yankee fans in Florida today by trotting out the endorsement of Johnny Damon this morning.
"He changed the way I looked at New York," the Yankee outfielder said after an event with the former New York mayor. "It's a very safe place, and I think a lot of it's because of Rudy."
Damon said he remembers seeing Giuliani's leadership after 9/11, when he was playing for the Oakland Athletics. Since joining the Yankees, he's gotten to know him personally. "I get to see him quite a bit now when he comes out to the ball games," he said. "He's always been a nice and genuine guy, so I think he'd do a great job as our president."
He doesn't think his support will be a problem in the Yankee clubhouse. And the left-hander said he'll go to bat for him when he starts seeing his teammates next month in Tampa for spring training. "I think everybody likes Rudy," he said. "Everyone has their opinions on who they're going to vote for or what not. But I've always been a fan of Rudy's. So that's why I'm going to vote for him."
Damon said he is a registered Republican in the Sunshine State and "absolutely" will vote on primary day.