- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has won the early part of Campaign 2008, defying conventional wisdom about Republicans liberal on social issues, to surge to a staggering share of support in surveys of potential primary voters.

Since announcing his exploratory committee for president in November, Mr. Giuliani has seen his standing in the polls grow by about 15 percentage points, to hover around 40 percent of possible primary voters. He also proved last weekend his appeal can reach even the most conservative of audiences as he won the combined first and second choice ballot at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll.

And Mr. Giuliani’s camp says they haven’t even put their full team on the field yet.

“What’s fascinating, even more than just this whole notion about the conservatives, is generally speaking, he’s doing so well for really not having started the campaign in earnest yet,” said Jim Nussle, a former member of Congress and gubernatorial candidate in Iowa who has signed on with Mr. Giuliani. “There is a hunger among Republicans for success, that recognizes if we don’t win, we don’t govern.”

Mr. Giuliani’s performance is surprising to many in a party identified with pro-life, pro-gun rights positions.

The question, pollsters say, is whether the man styled as “America’s Mayor” is cruising on leftover good feelings from his term as New York mayor, when he led the city through the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

“We don’t know whether he’s doing well because social conservatives don’t know about his views on abortion, gay rights and gun control, or they don’t care,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director at the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

He said it will be some time before that question is answered, because most voters, even in a primary, won’t take a close look at their choices until closer to the time they vote.

Mr. Nussle said Mr. Giuliani is appealing to Republicans, Democrats and independents by pointing to results from his eight years as mayor of a city with a larger population than most states, including a dramatic drop in crime. He added there’s even a term for Democrats who gravitate toward Mr. Giuliani — “Rudycrats.”

“We are starting to remember the common denominator that was successful for President Reagan, and that was strength, growth and opportunity,” Mr. Nussle said.

At the same time, the results from this weekend’s CPAC straw poll show Mr. Giuliani’s appeal to conservatives. Among those who said their core conservative belief was security, Mr. Giuliani topped the field with 25 percent. And he won 21 percent of those whose core belief was individual freedom and limited government, good for second place behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“At CPAC, there wasn’t one person in the room who did not specifically know his positions on just about every issue,” Mr. Nussle said. “This is one of the most savvy conservative groups you could speak to.”

But CPAC also showed Mr. Giuliani’s weakness. He lagged in fourth place, at just 8 percent, among those whose core conservative principle was adherence to “traditional values.”

Richard Land, head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, told the Associated Press that evangelical voters will be turned off by Mr. Giuliani’s family history — two divorces, including moving in with Judith Nathan, who would become his third wife, before the divorce from Donna Hanover was final.

“This is divorce on steroids,” Mr. Land said. “To publicly humiliate your wife in that way, and your children. That’s rough. I think that’s going to be an awfully hard sell, even if he weren’t pro-choice and pro-gun control.”

For now, though, in addition to leading the Republican pack, the former mayor looks like the best general election candidate.

A new Quinnipiac poll of three swing states, released yesterday, showed Mr. Giuliani edging Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in Florida, handily beating her in Pennsylvania and trailing her by one percentage point in Ohio.

One strategist from an opposing campaign said Mr. Giuliani is benefiting from Sen. John McCain’s slippage among Republicans.

“First, he is subsisting off of national name ID, and voters have no reason to dislike him right now. And second, they have plenty of reasons to dislike McCain,” the strategist said. “A huge percentage of voters know very little about the September 10th version of Rudy, and that’s where his real challenge with voters will be because a lot of it ain’t pretty.”

The strategist said Mr. McCain’s slip is probably permanent, since voters are already familiar with him, which leaves an opportunity for the rest of the field to pick up when Mr. Giuliani also falls.

And fall he will, said Republican pollster Michael McKenna, who said primary voters are difficult to isolate in polls, and said at this point voters are just flirting with Mr. Giuliani. He said Mr. Giuliani has not picked up many counterintuitive endorsements from the sort of conservative luminaries who would be expected to find his campaign anathema.

“Even at this point, primary voters tend to be like adolescents who are just starting to date,” he said. “They like one girl, one candidate for a while, and then a prettier girl comes along.”

As for Mr. Giuliani’s appeal, he said, “What girl do you know that hasn’t wanted to date the bad boy? And what girl do you know hasn’t flirted with the dangerous boy in class?”

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