- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Presidential debate watchers have firm ideas about which top-tier Republican wannabe would be the most riveting if matched up against Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008.

Most often mentioned as the most entertaining Republican challengers to the New York Democrat, who leads her party rivals in national polls, are former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — two of the party’s highest-paid public speakers.

Mr. Gingrich told The Washington Times on Sunday that he will begin gathering financial commitments from donors Monday for a Republican nomination run and will join the race if he gets pledges for $30 million over the next three weeks.

Mr. Gingrich’s speaking appeal has wide recognition.

“If I have to pick one, I would pick Newt Gingrich,” said California-based Republican strategist Sal Russo. “He would be the most intellectually stimulating. If it were just entertaining and less intellectual, then I think Fred Thompson.” Mr. Thompson is a former Republican senator from Tennessee.

“It’s Hillary versus Rudy. Makes you wonder who’d wear the pants and who’d wear the dress in that one,” said Democrat Toby Chaudhuri, a spokesman for the Campaign for America’s Future, referring to Mrs. Clinton’s pantsuits and to Internet photographs of Mr. Giuliani sporting a dress as a joke.

For some, a Clinton-Giuliani matchup would be a long time coming, since Mr. Giuliani was supposed to debate Mrs. Clinton in her first Senate campaign in 2000, but he withdrew from the race.

“Now they’re the front-runners, and both are smart and wily. And maybe their spouses could debate as well — that should end it for Giuliani,” said Marti Dinerstein, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Mr. Giuliani has earned $9.2 million in speaking fees since last year, according to his federal financial-disclosure report. Mr. Gingrich makes about 60 speeches a year and for each, earns $50,000, according to Fortune magazine.

“It’s simple — Newt versus Hillary,” Fox News’ “War Stories” host Oliver L. North said when asked which Republican would have the liveliest exchanges with Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Thompson, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain fit the bill. All of them except for Mr. Gingrich are formally in the Republican-nomination race.

Mr. McCain, known for his wry humor, is the top pick for Orson Swindle, former assistant secretary of commerce under President Reagan.

“It’s McCain versus Clinton,” said Mr. Swindle, who was spokesman for the 1992 Ross Perot independent presidential campaign. “The intellect level would be great and the contrasting political philosophy enormous.”

But the prospect of a New York duel is too tantalizing for conservative political-newsletter publisher Jon Fleischman, who said, “Easy pick — Rudy versus Hillary. There’s something about an all-New York City food fight that seems like it would make great political theater.”

Former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, who was a House Republican impeachment manager during the presidency of Mrs. Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, thinks entertainment would top out with a Clinton-Gingrich debate.

“Both are supreme egotists and not afraid to engage in bare-knuckle brawling. Both are adept at employing shadow allies to assassinate the other’s character and family,” he said.

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