Rudy Giuliani has
focused on November 2008 -- and Democratic front-runner
Hillary Rodham Clinton -- from the outset of his
presidential bid with a strategy as uncertain as it is
''I'm not running
against my Republican opponents. I'm running against
the Democrats,'' Giuliani insists as he brushes aside
reality: before going toe-to-toe with that party's
nominee, he must win the GOP nod.
It's a tall --
though not impossible -- order.
The former New
York mayor with the messy personal life and
moderate-to-liberal positions on social issues is an
unorthodox choice given that conservative voters
usually hold considerable sway in Republican
But since the
year began and to the surprise of many party pundits, the
politician whose identity is forever linked to 9/11, has
maintained his strong-contender status.
strategists attribute his staying power in no small part to
his central argument to GOP voters desperate for victory
next fall: He can win against a Democrat -- and one in
''I'm the only
Republican candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton,''
Giuliani often says.
Could be true.
But he's got to
capture his own party's nomination first.
question he is running a general election campaign and
attempting to portray himself as the inevitable nominee,''
said Ed Rollins, who advised President Reagan. ''But,
there's still a hard battle ahead for the Republican
nomination, and he has a long way to go.''
Consider that the
race is remarkably fluid.
leads in national surveys but his advantage has eroded
some over the past few months and since actor-politician
Fred Thompson entered the race. Mitt Romney, the
former Massachusetts governor, leads in Iowa and is in
a tight race with Giuliani in New Hampshire. Arizona
senator John McCain still has a double-digit base of support
nationally and appeals to independents who also are
drawn to the ex-mayor.
While Giuliani is
competing to varying degrees in early voting Iowa, New
Hampshire and South Carolina, he's clearly taking a
nontraditional -- and untested -- route to the
nomination by making a stand in delegate-rich Florida
on January 29. It's a gateway to the big-prize February 5
primaries in California, New York and other states that
Giuliani backers contend will be more amenable to a
candidate of his ilk.
Perhaps more so
than any other Republican rival, Thompson is a threat to
the case Giuliani has been making. The Southerner is
arguing, subtly thus far, that not only can he beat
Clinton but that he also has conservative positions on
cultural issues. But his first month as a candidate was
In many respects,
Giuliani has little choice but to make the ''I'm
''This is his
best strategy for getting from here to there, given who he
is, where he comes from, and where the minefields are,''
said Stephen Hess, a George Washington University
professor who has worked in several Republican
administrations. ''It's out of necessity ... unless he wants
to recreate himself.''
Giuliani is a
thrice-married candidate from the liberal bastion of New
York who supports abortion and gay rights, and has a past
record of backing gun control measures. All that may
prove a tough sell for conservative primary voters.
So, he's asking
them to overlook what he doesn't offer -- right-leaning
views on cultural issues they care about -- for what he says
he does offer: the best opportunity for Republicans to
thwart another Clinton presidency.
Aides argue that
GOP voters are seeking someone who encompasses the whole
package, rather than casting their ballots on a single
They also point
to polls that show him winning in a hypothetical
head-to-head matchup with Clinton. But surveys 14 months
before a general election are hardly predictive.
Still, relying on
such polls, Giuliani claims to be the only Republican
able to put in play Democratic-leaning states with lots of
electoral votes, such as New York, California, New
Jersey, and Illinois.
''The reality is
we need a candidate who can run in all 50 states,''
Giuliani says. ''I can.''
That theory, thus
far, is just a theory.
great care not to criticize his GOP rivals and sidesteps
invitations to do so. He does, however, counter their
charges. In the most high-profile case, Romney has
accused Giuliani of reigning over a ''sanctuary city''
for illegal immigrants in New York. Giuliani, in turn,
claimed Romney allowed such cities to flourish in
Massachusetts as governor.
Giuliani hammered, as far as Republicans are concerned, the
ultimate trifecta of liberal bogeymen -- the left-leaning
interest group MoveOn.org, The New York Times
and Clinton. He blasted MoveOn for buying an ad in the
Times that assailed the top U.S. commander in Iraq,
challenged Clinton to denounce it, and criticized the
newspaper for slashing the price of it.
have his share of vulnerabilities as a general election
candidate, not the least of which is his personal life.
A top Clinton
backer recently suggested all that would be fair game.
Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, referencing Giuliani's
marriages and estrangement from his two children,
said: ''There's a lot that the rest of the country is
going to get to know about Mayor Giuliani that the
folks in New York City know.''
In that sense,
Giuliani as the GOP nominee could actually end up being
the Democrats' greatest gift. (Liz Sidoti, AP)