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After months of talking about fighting terror, the New Yorker switches his theme to "hope."
By DAVID DeCAMP, Times Staff Writer
Published January 27, 2008
ORLANDO -- After long warning voters of the lethal threat of terrorism, Rudy Giuliani found a new theme Saturday.
The front-runner turned also-ran in the Florida primary added a softer, optimistic tenor to his speeches, which have consistently advocated being on "offense against Islamic terrorists" and rekindled memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"The most important thing about voting is the vote for hope," Giuliani said at an overflowing Columbia Restaurant in Sarasota. "Vote for a better America. Vote for a better Florida. Vote for an America and a Florida that's safer, more secure, more prosperous, more people moving out of poverty, more people with hope for the future."
Later in Orlando, Giuliani held a rally with female supporters to launch a national women's coalition, including former New York Rep. Susan Molinari and Rep. Mary Bono Mack,R-Calif. Freshening Giuliani's message, Molinari said his crime-fighting record as New York's mayor helped women -- slashing the rate of rapes in the city, for example.
Giuliani continued to emphasize national security and big tax cuts, mainstays in his bid. But his effort to woo voters -- saying they ought to "look into their hearts" -- underscored how much his Florida campaign has pivoted to find a winning method in the state singular to his strategy.
Once a double-digit leader in polls, he has fallen solidly behind John McCain and Mitt Romney in surveys last week, despite spending more time in Florida than anyone else.
In a show of Giuliani's diminished relevance, McCain and Romney slashed at each other's records Saturday. And Giuliani wasn't part of their debate.
'White flags,' barbs fly
As he made stops across the state, McCain tried to focus voter attention on the war in Iraq and Islamic extremists instead of Romney's keystone issue, the economy.
He claimed Romney said in April that he supports a private timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. McCain likened Romney to Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has said she will start withdrawal within 60 days of taking office if she is elected.
"That's surrender. That's waving the white flag," he said.
In Land O'Lakes, Romney said it's untrue that he wants to set a date for withdrawal and that McCain should apologize for saying otherwise.
But McCain told a Sun City Center audience of more than 800 that Romney owes an apology to the men and women serving in Iraq for not giving them unwavering support. McCain pushed for increasing troop levels in Iraq long before President Bush embraced that strategy, and now that "surge" has been credited as a success. He called Romney's proposal for private timetables and milestones bizarre.
Said Romney: "It's fine for him to express his views on different topics, and I know he's trying desperately to change the topic from the economy, trying to get back to Iraq. But to say something that's not accurate is simply wrong. And he knows better."
Out of the fray
In Orlando, Giuliani said he was staying positive by not entering their debate.
"If you listen to my opponents, it's getting kind of nasty," he said, adding that he offers the best of both his rivals' profiles.
Giuliani downplayed his lower support, promising, "We're coming in first." He urged supporters to disregard experts and cynics, saying, "You're the experts."
But the tone and geography of the campaign speak to his challenge. Sleeves rolled up, he cast himself as an underdog.
Asked if he was bidding for a sympathy vote, he laughed and said: "No, no, no. I think you get a lot of attention as the underdog, and there's a certain feeling of coming from behind that appeals to the American people."
Giuliani's final three days of public events keep him in the southern half of the state, and particularly, South Florida.
In November, polling for the St. Petersburg Times showed he took one of every two Republican votes there. Last week, McCain led Giuliani 34 percent to 24.
Giuliani has not announced an event in North Florida, where his liberal social views supporting abortion rights and gay marriage have less support. He noted Saturday that he toured the Panhandle and Jacksonville this month, and the campaign focuses on the best places to get the most votes.
In a courtyard in the tony St. Armands district of Sarasota on Saturday morning, he parried questions with actor Jon Voight next to him.
Are you conservative enough? Does Sen. Mel Martinez's endorsement of McCain hurt your appeal to Cubans? Can you afford to come in second?
Finally the questions turned to Voight as a crowd of onlookers listened. What brought you here?
Voight put an arm around Giuliani and demanded a camera focus on the candidate. Then he offered his own version of hope, recounting living in New York when crime was high.
"We needed an angel, we all prayed -- I mean really people were praying that something would save this great jewel of a city," he said. "And this angel showed up."
Times staff writers Janet Zink and Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6232.
[Last modified January 27, 2008, 01:55:04]