GOP centrists promote Giuliani

As President Bush’s poll numbers sag and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) rise, some congressional Republicans are taking a fresh look at former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a social centrist with national recognition and stature.

“He makes an impression just by walking in a room,” said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who was aided by a visit from Giuliani in his own 2002 campaign. “He’s America’s mayor. I would never rule out Rudy Giuliani accomplishing anything he set out to do.”

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Some Republicans are taking a fresh look at former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “He represents the resilience of the nation,” said Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.).


Giuliani earns near-universal admiration among congressional Republicans — an important constituency in the race for the nomination. But even his biggest boosters can’t say for sure whether a big-city mayor who supports abortion rights can win over the social conservatives who hold overwhelming sway within the GOP.

Asked whether Giuliani could capture the nomination in 2008 should he decide to run, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), a centrist, replied, “Conventional wisdom is no, because of some positions he’s taken.” But he added, “More often than not of late, the conventional wisdom is wrong. … Where is a person of national stature who can come close to measuring up to Rudy Giuliani or [Sen.] John McCain?”

“Electability will be a big issue in 2008,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who backed McCain in 2000. “If Hillary Clinton decides to run for president, she’ll be a very firm opponent. I think it would be incumbent on the Republican Party to look at someone of national stature who’s electable.”

The key question, according to pollster John Zogby, is: “How strong will the Christian conservatives be? Will they be able to block Rudy, or for that matter McCain? That’s the $64,000 question.”

A new poll being released today by Zogby International, which has done polling for both McCain and Giuliani in the past, is expected to show McCain moving ahead with a substantial lead over the GOP field — a reflection of attention McCain gained by helping broker a deal on judicial nominations and his role as a spokesman on national-security issues.

McCain holds double-digit leads in head-to-head match-ups against Clinton and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), but Giuliani is running a strong second to McCain.

Giuliani led McCain by three percentage points in last week’s Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, getting support from 29 percent of respondents to McCain’s 26, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) with 9 percent.

“Giuliani is known internationally, but known as the mayor of New York, and the hero of New York,” Zogby said. “He has not really been in the public eye in the same way McCain has.”

Members of Congress say Giuliani, now running a lucrative business practice, endeared himself to the party by lending his credibility to Bush during the campaign. He also won plaudits for hosting a successful Republican National Convention in New York City.

“It’ll be difficult, but he could do it,” said Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), a social centrist who hosted Giuliani during his campaign last year. “He would win a general election if he got the nomination. If the Republican Party asks their candidates to be so far right to get the nomination, they put themselves out of play in the general.”

Bush was able to thank Giuliani for his efforts last year by inviting him to a Christmas dinner at the White House. Giuliani used the occasion to apologize for the disruption caused by Bush’s nomination of Bernard Kerik, Giuliani’s business partner and former New York police commissioner, to head the Department of Homeland Security. The episode damaged Giuliani, but observers say he can put it behind him.

Still, conservatives pounced after the Kerik controversy flared. David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a columnist for The Hill, told The New York Times in December that Giuliani’s handling of the Kerik situation was revealing.

Keene said at the time, “It really goes to the flip side of what people like about Rudy, which is that he is not seen as someone who is very careful about much of anything. It raises the question of what kind of people and what kind of checking would he do if he were in the position of making those kind of decisions?”

Giuliani campaigned for a handful of members last cycle, although far fewer than McCain stumped for. He was warmly received when he addressed Republicans at a retreat this winter in West Virginia, although one Republican source said Giuliani’s remarks fell flat.

Although his abortion stance leaves Giuliani out of step with GOP leaders and many primary voters, his public profile is complex. He earned a reputation as a tough-on-crime prosecutor and is credited for helping to clean up New York City and reducing both violent crime and petty annoyances of urban life.

Giuliani’s overwhelming association is with strong leadership provided during the difficult days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when Giuliani’s press conferences were as much a fixture on television as Bush’s.

“He’s certainly within our party,” said Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), who called Giuliani an icon of sorts. “He represents the resilience of the nation. He represents the kind of bold leadership that can turn the most desperate situations around.”

Much of the baggage that Giuliani had accumulated during his short campaign against Clinton for the Senate — including reports of an extramarital affair, a divorce and later his marriage to Judith Nathan — appears to have been washed away, although it could resurface during a presidential campaign. Giuliani dropped out of the Senate race after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Supporters say Giuliani will have to decide soon if he wants to seek the “grand prize,” to assemble a nationwide fundraising network. New York has the potential to provide him with a lucrative base of financial support.

But Giuliani’s association with New York — even as the city enjoys a rebound he helped engineer — could hinder him. While two New York governors captured the White House in the past century, no New York City mayor has made the jump.

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