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If Giuliani can get through primaries, he stacks up well

For a guy commonly regarded as a hero after 9/11, Mayor Giuliani is too quickly dismissed by presidential handicappers. Here's why he deserves a second look.

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published March 4, 2007


Over the coming weeks, we will try to make the case for how each of the major 2008 presidential contenders could win the White House. These aren't predictions or endorsements, mind you, just food for thought.

Last week was Republican Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. This week Republican Rudy Giuliani.

 

For a national hero leading in most early presidential polls, Rudy Giuliani has received remarkably little respect from the political intelligentsia.

At least until recently it's been conventional wisdom that the former New York City mayor can't win the Republican nomination: He was too late gearing up a campaign organization, the pundits say. He has too much personal baggage. He's too liberal on social issues.

"It seems to me that you need to suspend all your analytical faculties to believe the GOP will nominate for president a Republican who supports abortion rights, and is pro-gun control and pro-gay rights. It just isn't going to happen, at least not in my lifetime," political analyst Stuart Rothenberg wrote in The Hill recently.

The counterargument in two words: Charlie Crist.

In the state that's probably the best microcosm of America, Crist didn't just win last year's gubernatorial primary running as a moderate on social issues. He pulverized by 31 percentage points Tom Gallagher, who had loads of GOP establishment support and basically pinned his campaign on religious conservatives.

The right candidate at the right time can trump even core issues. In the midst of a war on terror, the mayor who proved his leadership mettle on 9/11 is that candidate.

"What people are looking for today is somebody from outside the Beltway who is a true leader," said state Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who is leaning strongly to Giuliani. "He and I may not agree on some of the social issues, but I look beyond that and look for someone who can lead this country."

Likewise, state Rep. Thad Altman, a Melbourne Republican and strong Giuliani supporter who consistently earns an "A" from the Christian Coalition, predicted many social conservatives will embrace the former mayor.

"Certain individuals have the ability to transcend individual issues, and Rudy Giuliani is one of those. He's Reaganesque in that regard," Altman said. "When world events take a certain direction there always seems to be someone who emerges because it's their time to lead. I think Mayor Giuliani represents that. If he's elected president we can feel secure in America."

Besides, it's not as if Republicans have an obvious and pure conservative alternative in the top tier of the Republican field. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds Giuliani well ahead among evangelical voters.

Arizona Sen. John McCain has attacked Christian conservative leaders and opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney used to tout his support for gay rights and abortion rights.

"First of all their bark is worse than their bite. The Florida gubernatorial primary proved that. Second of all, they'll be split up. They won't coalesce behind one candidate," veteran Republican strategist Roger Stone of Miami, a McCain backer, said of social conservatives. "Giulani's appeal is that he's not part of the Washington problem. He is also a fresh face in the sense that he's only been a national figure since 9/11. He's a national figure, but he's still a fresh face."

No question, Giuliani, 62, has a bumpy road ahead winning the primary. He'll face scrutiny about his last messy divorce, about his business ventures, about his temperament, and his record on social issues. Giuliani already is trying to reassure values voters that he'll appoint "strict constructionist" judges, code for judges likely to support overturning Roe vs. Wade.

Despite his baggage, the polls consistently show Giuliani comfortably ahead of McCain and way ahead of Romney and the rest of the Republican field. In the last 10 presidential elections, the early Republican frontrunner has won the nomination.

Arguing that Giuliani will win the general election is much easier than arguing he'll win the primary. He may be out of step with many Republican primary voters, but his post- 9/11 performance and record cleaning up New York City make him perfectly suited to winning over independents and swing voters.

That's why no other candidate more consistently beats all hypothetical Democratic contenders in national polls. A Gallup poll last week showed no other major contender from either party had as strong favorable ratings across the political spectrum as Giuliani.

"I'm a Democrat, and I would vote for Rudy any day of the week," said Alyson Levitt, who was among the throngs of retired New Yorkers who turned out to see Giuliani in Delray Beach recently. "Even before Sept. 11, he was a leader who cleaned up New York, and if he can do what he did for New York, he'd be an excellent president."

Giuliani must be the only candidate who can hold a Republican primary campaign event like the South Florida stop and attract supporters who voted for John Kerry and speak fondly of Hillary Clinton. The guy would make Democrats work to hold the solidly blue Northeast in the general election.

"This is the first time in 55 years that Americans will have as a choice for president what is considered an American hero. The last time was Eisenhower," said Tampa media consultant Adam Goodman, a longtime adviser to Giuliani. "As the world has changed I'm not sure our thirst as Americans has changed for those kinds of elective choices. That's why I think he's transcended so far the normal political calculus and punditry."

Giuliani can't win the Republican nomination in the first competitive primary since 9/11? Baloney. He can if Republicans are pragmatic after their 2006 drubbing and focus on keeping the White House Republican in 2008.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or asmith@sptimes.com.