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Terrorism: Giuliani's running mate

DES MOINES — The world according to Rudolph W. Giuliani is a very, very scary place.

Just listen to the former mayor of New York City in a hotel ballroom in the scorching Midwest, two minutes and 14 seconds into a speech on "Restoring Fiscal Discipline and Cutting Wasteful Washington Spending."

"I will continue to keep America on offense in the terrorist war against us, because I think that's the overriding issue of our day," he declared. Then he leaped into a detailed discussion that wound its way through earmarks and out-of-control federal budgets to the threat of Democratic tax increases and — as always — back to terrorism.

While talking taxes, Giuliani spoke of listening to a Democratic presidential debate. "They never mentioned the word 'Islamic terrorist' during the debate…. Maybe they think they're going to be insulting somebody if they say it. I'm trying to figure out who would be insulted — other than Islamic terrorists."

The man who has been billed as "America's Mayor" and who wants deeply to become America's next president hewed most closely to his core campaign message last week as the days wore on, and the twin towers rose into high relief.

An arid hour on fiscal responsibility in Des Moines on Wednesday was followed by 12 minutes of terrorism and Fidel Castro in Hialeah, Fla., on Thursday. But a silent appearance at Friday's memorial service for nine firefighters killed in the line of duty in Charleston, S.C., distilled Giuliani's message better than anything he could actually say.

Bagpipes keened "Amazing Grace." The eulogies were all about danger and heroism; about brave souls who race toward the inferno, while everyone else heads for safety; about "the largest loss in the firefighting community since 9/11."

And there he was, head bowed, the man whose candidacy is built on the rubble of the World Trade Center, the constant threat of future attack and the need to stay vigilant. On Friday morning, he didn't have to say a word to get that point across.

Giuliani's run for the White House is not based on the simple fact of Sept. 11, 2001, but who he was and what he did in the terrifying hours and days that followed. While President Bush disappeared to the safety of an airplane, the lame duck mayor of New York City headed to ground zero. He scoped out the damage firsthand, saw terrified people jump to their deaths from the burning skyscrapers, gave news conferences and planned ahead.

In "Leadership," his 2002 business book-cum-autobiography, he wrote: "After September 11, people would tell me that it was brave to go to the scene of the attacks. It was actually just carrying out my usual practice for any significant emergency … of seeing things with your own eyes and of setting an example."

That insouciant aside for chief executives translates on the campaign trail into an argument that Giuliani's experience is as close to presidential as it is possible to get without storing your BlackBerry in the Oval Office. In other words: Vote for me, I've almost been there.

Sure, he has been blasted as an autocrat. His multiple marriages and estranged children make family-values types cringe, and his stands on abortion and gun control offend hard-line social conservatives. It took Sept. 11 to boost his popularity at home, at least temporarily.

But "I've had to run things that I guess are the most similar to running the federal government," he told the polite audience in Des Moines on June 20. "Nothing is like being president of the United States…. But I had a job in running what really is the third-largest government in the country, and the second- or third-most complex."

Not only that, he said, but he had the duty during very tough times: "When it was going through a crime crisis and fiscal crisis, and I had to change it, and, of course, on Sept. 11, when we were part of the worst attack in the history of the country."

Good message, but he may not be the only one using it.

Just the day before, New York City's current mayor announced that he was leaving the Republican Party, fueling widespread speculation that he would run for president as an independent in 2008. And so the spirit of Michael R. Bloomberg followed Giuliani from Iowa to Florida.

Reporter: "You talked a lot today about how your experience as mayor of New York is sort of comparable … to being president. Given Mayor Bloomberg's decision … "

Giuliani interrupts, laughing: "So now we've got two people with that experience. Mayor Bloomberg is a friend of mine. I like Mike a lot…. As a New Yorker, I'm happy that he's been a good mayor. But I'm really happy that he carried on a lot of the things that I thought [up]."

All of which raises the age-old question: How many New York mayors does it take to run for president?

"Apparently, a lot more than one," said Mario Stecco, a 22-year-old high school chemistry teacher who had come to La Carreta restaurant in Hialeah on June 21 to hear Giuliani talk about fiscal responsibility and a strong national defense. "But [Giuliani] will be strong enough to take it."

And the reason was clear in Hialeah, where the prosecutor-turned-politician was introduced by Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa as the man who healed the wounds of 9/11 and stood up to Castro, telling him, "Usted es una persona non grata en Nueva York!"

This being the heart of Cuban South Florida and a deeply Republican bastion to boot, the 250 or so supporters who had lined up to nibble pan dulce and listen to the candidate cheered wildly at the image of the strong-jawed mayor telling the dictator that he's not welcome in the Big Apple.

It was a story they already knew by heart, and the candidate repeated it on this day for good measure: In 1995, during the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, Giuliani forbade Castro to attend a banquet of world leaders.

"Castro is a murderer," Giuliani boomed through La Carreta's packed banquet hall. "I know it. I will never forget. So is his brother. I know it. I will never forget it."

Others might "romanticize" Castro and his ilk, but Cuban Americans know better than anyone else, he said, how important it is "to be strong in the face of dictators and terrorists…. America can't show weaknesses to these Islamic terrorists. Because, if we do, we're going to be in a lot greater danger."

Giuliani has probably visited Florida more than any other state since confirming in February that he would seek the Republican nomination for president. The state gave the White House to Bush in 2000. ("Thank God!" he told his Hialeah audience.) And it will be key again in 2008, he said, both in its January primary and in November.

Most primary candidates tend to focus scarce resources on a small handful of early voting states. They will practically take up residence in, say, Iowa or New Hampshire, and pull 16-hour days with half a dozen public events in as many cities.

But Giuliani's public schedule generally holds to a more regal pace; it is the luxury of being national front-runner. Giuliani often has just one public campaign event per day, although he often schedules multiple private fundraisers. In the last four months, he has visited at least 21 states. He plans to be in Sacramento today and Irvine on Friday.

National campaign manager Michael DuHaime acknowledges that Giuliani hasn't "done the 14 stops in three days in Iowa yet" but insists that the candidate keeps to "an incredibly fast pace" and is serious about Iowa and all of the early voting states.

"But the reality is, no one's ever run this race before," DuHaime said in an interview. "We haven't had a Republican presidential primary since Sept. 11. The old way of doing things has to be rethought."

If 9/11 really did change politics as usual, then there was no better place for Giuliani to be Friday than the North Charleston Coliseum, where the region remembered "our nine heroes," firefighters killed while battling a furniture store blaze.

Giuliani was supposed to fly from South Florida to Jacksonville, Fla., for a town hall meeting at a junior college.

But then the campaign got a call from Lewis Hayes, chairman of South Carolina Firefighters for Rudy, inviting the candidate to the memorial service.

So Jacksonville was out, and the candidate flew north to pay his respects. His staff stressed that the trip was just that, not an official campaign event.

Giuliani wasn't the only man who stepped off the trail Friday. Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrats Joseph R. Biden Jr., Christopher J. Dodd and John Edwards were all present. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama had called Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. to express their sympathy.

However, Giuliani is the only one who has written a book on leadership with a chapter called "Weddings Discretionary, Funerals Mandatory." The only one whose city lost 343 firefighters and 60 police officers on one horrible day in 2001.

He's the only one who inspires both wrath and respect in firefighters for his actions in response to Sept. 11.

And he is the only one who can sit in a cavernous auditorium amid thousands of uniformed first responders and give a campaign speech without saying a word.

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maria.laganga@latimes.com

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