Giuliani, in Carolina, Full of Praise for Bush

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The New York Sun

RALEIGH, N.C. – Rudolph Giuliani says he’ll run for president only if he thinks he can win. There’s little doubt he hopes the answer will be yes. As Mr. Giuliani lays the groundwork for a national campaign, he’s trying to build support by shedding his reputation as a lone ranger who could easily support a Democrat if he were in the mood.

Mr. Giuliani spent yesterday afternoon in North Carolina – building political capital with local Republican leaders by doing them the favor of being here. He repeatedly praised the party’s philosophical approach to government and expressed support for President Bush in advance of the president’s speech to the nation about immigration.

“He understands the issue possibly better than just about anyone given his experience as governor of Texas,” Mr. Giuliani told reporters gathered in a hotel hallway. “I’m very, very proud of President Bush,” he added later.

Mr. Giuliani expressed reluctance to judge Mr. Bush’s plan for deploying troops along the Mexican border before the plan was formally announced last night. He did say Mr. Bush should combine strict enforcement of immigration laws with efforts to make sure immigrants who learn English and American customs can become citizens.

Mr. Giuliani’s presidential pondering took him to Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio earlier this month, and his trip to North Carolina marked his first campaign-style foray into the south. He headlined a state Republican fundraiser yesterday afternoon in Raleigh and then joined a senator, Richard Burr, at a small roundtable discussion about emergency preparedness that focused on his experiences running New York City.

After a leading Iowa political reporter criticized Mr. Giuliani for preferring grand appearances to retail politics like shaking hands and working a room, I decided to see for myself how America’s mayor plays in the heartland. His stump speech is a winner, gently touching on his accomplishments as mayor at reducing crime and welfare, without overselling his leadership on September 11, 2001.

“We have a much better sense of how to limit government, and I think we have a much better sense how to remain constant in the war on terror,” Mr. Giuliani told Republicans at the fund-raiser. “We may have some differences, but the things that unite us are much important.”

Mr. Giuliani brings enormous credibility to the campaign trail, a combination of recognition and respect than all politicians crave but few achieve. His achievements reducing crime and welfare are well known, and of course the events of September 11 come up virtually every time his name comes up.

“We came a long way to see him,” Martha George said after the fund-raiser. “I’ve only seen him on TV during September 11th.”

Her friend, Rosemon Tipton, nodded her head in agreement – but did register a complaint that could become common: “We didn’t get to see much of him. I was hoping he would come around, I think it would’ve helped.”

Mr. Giuliani, who arrived in a black SUV, mingled with the crowds only briefly as the events wound down. Mr. Burr broke up the discussion by suggesting Mr. Giuliani needed to get going, with the words, “I see some panic on your staff.”

His talk during the fund-raiser amounted to a Republican pep talk, praising the party’s approach to both the economy and foreign policy. Where Democrats look to government to solve problems, Mr. Giuliani said Republicans have faith in people. Mr. Giuliani also acknowledged that his party is suffering in his own backyard.

“I’m used to seeing signs that say New York Republican Party – then there are five people in the room,” Mr. Giuliani told the audience of 300 people who paid between $125 and $500 apiece.

Analysts have speculated that Mr. Giuliani’s positions on social issues could be the determining factor in his electability. My sense is that Mr. Giuliani’s patience – his willingness to mix and mingle – will play just as big a role. Even here on the edge of the Bible Belt, Ms. Tipton said that “people don’t care about abortion anymore.”

That’s surely an overstatement, which is why Mr. Giuliani is artfully trying to focus on the economy and security rather than issues like gay rights and gun control where he splits with the GOP platform.

The trick now is to pay personal attention to voters, which means speaking with them when he’s done speaking to them. Mr. Giuliani didn’t seem particularly interested in chatting with his audiences yesterday. And he was fidgeting even before his speech at the fund-raiser, while others in the room stood still with their heads bowed. Perhaps his restlessness was just a New York thing – I only noticed him looking side-to-side because I was restless as well.

Whatever his weaknesses, some of Mr. Giuliani’s potential 2008 opponents may face even greater obstacles in states like this one.

“I hope you’re not a Hillary-ite,” Ms. George shouted at me across the parking lot. “We don’t like The Hillary here, I can tell you that.”

The New York Sun

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