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Giuliani fares well for GOP social moderate

Times Staff Writer

As he dashes across California over the next few days, Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph W. Giuliani has more on his agenda than just raking up campaign money.

Today, he plans to work crowds of Republican activists at a state party convention in Sacramento. On Monday, he speaks to executives in the Silicon Valley. On Tuesday, he stops at a giant farm expo near Fresno. Along the way, he expects to announce new supporters, including former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican.

For the former New York City mayor, who met privately with GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday night, California plays an increasingly large part in his calculus for winning the Republican nomination. It is one of several big states on the verge of advancing their 2008 presidential primaries to Feb. 5, a shift that enhances the election climate for Giuliani.

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Among other effects, the calendar change heightens the importance of celebrity, giving an edge to Giuliani and his best-known Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Also, earlier contests outside the Bible Belt -- most notably in California and New Jersey -- could open the way for Giuliani, the only socially moderate GOP candidate, to gain momentum in the crucial opening weeks of the primaries. In other key states -- particularly in the South -- his liberal stands on abortion, guns and gay rights trouble many of the social conservatives who dominate Republican primaries.

Beyond geography, another dynamic working in Giuliani’s favor now is the emerging mix of top-tier Republican candidates. Both of his chief opponents, McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, have their own frictions with social conservatives. And neither has focused on the moderates most likely to gravitate to Giuliani.

Giuliani’s overall task still remains far from easy, but his candidacy is looking more plausible than just a few months ago.

“It’s always going to be an uphill battle for a social moderate in a Republican primary, but there hasn’t been a better opportunity for a candidate like Giuliani in decades,” said Dan Schnur, who was communications director of McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000 and is now unaligned.

Giuliani, who filed his statement of candidacy Monday, has already signaled his strategy: The former prosecutor casts himself as a tough-on-crime national-security hawk whose record of cutting taxes in New York shows a commitment to fiscal restraint.

In a Fox News interview this week, Giuliani took credit for the sharp drop in New York homicides while he was mayor. Best known nationally for his steady command of New York after the Sept. 11 attacks, Giuliani vowed to stay “on offense against terrorism.” And like McCain and Romney, he voiced support for President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq.

But Giuliani showed less willingness than his rivals to backpedal from positions that rile social conservatives, opting instead just to accent opinions that might ease their concerns.

“Where I stand on abortion is, I oppose it,” he said on Fox. “I don’t like it. I hate it. I think abortion is something that, as a personal matter, I would advise somebody against. However, I believe in a woman’s right to choose.”

He went on to praise three conservative Supreme Court justices: Samuel A. Alito Jr., John G. Roberts Jr. and Antonin Scalia.

Asked about gun control, Giuliani said it made sense in big cities but a “different set of rules” might suit suburban or rural areas. As for same-sex marriage, he acknowledged his long-standing support for gay-rights laws, but said three times: “Marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

A twice-divorced Roman Catholic, Giuliani, 62, has a personal history that complicates his quest for support among culturally conservative Republicans. He announced his split from his second wife, Donna Hanover, to television crews without warning her, and she, in turn, accused him of infidelity in a wrenching news conference outside the mayor’s mansion.

Giuliani’s combative temperament, often an asset in New York politics, could also prove problematic on the national stage. In 1992, the year before he was elected mayor, Giuliani stunned many New Yorkers by shouting an obscenity at a raucous police-union rally to denounce policies of Democratic then-Mayor David N. Dinkins.

“Set your watch: He’ll snap and he’ll lose his cool before the primaries start,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a Giuliani nemesis and a 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.

Former New York Mayor Edward I. Koch, a Democrat who voted for Giuliani twice, compiled a book of columns that he titled “Giuliani: Nasty Man.” “There is a mean-spirited quality to him that comes out when he feels somehow or other he’s not given his due,” Koch said.

Giuliani advisors say his tough disposition shows strength of conviction, which they describe as an advantage in a presidential race for a candidate emphasizing the leadership skills that voters witnessed after the terrorist attacks.

“He’s a straight shooter, and sometimes people aren’t going to like what he has to say,” said Mike DuHaime, executive director of Giuliani’s exploratory campaign committee.

Historically, the job of New York mayor has been a dead-end for politicians aspiring to higher office. In Giuliani’s case, his two terms as mayor create a “target-rich environment” for rivals rummaging for damaging material, said Chris Lehane, who was press secretary to Democrat Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.

“Issues that would have been just basic, accepted mainstream issues in New York City are not going to be seen the same way when you get to a living room in Sioux City,” he said. “Did your Health Department give out needles? Did it give out condoms?”

Also posing risks for Giuliani are a tangle of business deals by his consulting and law firms, along with his close ties to former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who pleaded guilty to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts as a city official.

For now, Giuliani leads many polls of Republican presidential primary voters. But key questions remain. Most of all, will conservative voters turn their backs when reminded of his stands on social issues? Or have they already decided that fiscal and security matters outweigh their other differences with Giuliani?

“Whoever can figure out ... how a cultural liberal, a center-left candidate, plays in the Republican nomination contest is going to get the political gold-star award,” said Rich Bond, a former Republican National Committee chairman who supports McCain. “We’ve never seen it.”

michael.finnegan@latimes.com


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