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Are the Republicans Ready for Rudy?

Ex-N.Y. Mayor Giuliani, the party's presidential front-runner though a political paradox to some, is gaining among core GOP conservatives.

April 30, 2006|Janet Hook | Times Staff Writer

MEMPHIS — When Rudolph W. Giuliani stepped on stage in an enormous sports arena here, he was greeted with a brassy rendition of "New York, New York," a blinding cloud of confetti and a roaring ovation from a crowd of more than 10,000.

The response at the recent business seminar was a tribute to the widespread appeal of the former mayor, who cleaned up New York and stood strong in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But it also looked like a dress rehearsal for a presidential campaign.

With polls showing Giuliani an early front-runner among the GOP's potential presidential candidates in 2008, this appearance and others around the country raise a question: Is the Republican Party ready for a nominee who takes liberal positions on abortion, gun control and gay rights; has had two messy divorces; once lived with a gay couple; and endorsed liberal icon Mario M. Cuomo to be governor of New York?

Maybe so, if the warm reception he got from the mostly conservative audience in Memphis is any indication.

"I think that man would make an excellent president,'' said Tamara Lowe, the mistress of ceremonies at the event.

But many Republicans see Giuliani as a walking political paradox. Although he is one of the party's most popular, best-known leaders, they cannot imagine him winning the nomination for a party in which evangelical conservatives have a big voice in presidential politics.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 02, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Rudolph W. Giuliani: An article in Sunday's Section A on the political fortunes of Rudolph W. Giuliani said the former New York mayor was named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 2001. It should have said Person of the Year.

David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said, "Giuliani is a smart enough guy to know that the first day of his campaign would be his best day. He is superficially popular, but when

Giuliani has said he will not make a decision about seeking the presidency until after November's midterm elections. But his calendar is loaded with political appearances that would serve him well if he runs.

Today, he attends a New York fundraiser for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Monday, he travels to Iowa, site of the presidential season's first nominating contest, to appear with local GOP candidates and raise money for the state party. Tuesday, he headlines a fundraiser in Washington for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Such stops help Giuliani bank goodwill from other Republicans that he could draw on in a presidential race. But unless he backs away from his support for gay rights, gun control and abortion rights, a Giuliani campaign would hinge on a crucial question: In the post-Sept. 11 political world, are such social issues less important than they have been in GOP presidential politics?

"If the country is focused on international terrorism, those issues will recede," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), a longtime friend who disagrees with Giuliani on abortion rights but admires his political skills.

If Giuliani runs, his tenure as New York mayor from 1994 through 2001 -- not just the part that came after Sept. 11 -- would get new attention from supporters and detractors.

"He would run on his record," said Anthony V. Carbonetti, a business partner and political advisor to Giuliani. "Here's a guy who governed the largest city in America for eight years, brought down crime, brought welfare rolls down dramatically and reduced taxes. Are there better conservative principles than that?"

A less flattering view of his mayoralty is portrayed in "Giuliani Time," a documentary that opens in New York on May 12. Directed by Kevin Keating, it seeks to undercut what the film's website terms Giuiliani's "secular sainthood" -- the view of him as a supermayor who turned New York from a crime-ridden, welfare-dependent city into a model of urban renaissance.

The film's title comes from the notorious 1997 case of a Haitian immigrant who was beaten and sodomized by police with a broomstick. At the time, a police officer was reported to have said during the attack, "It's Giuliani time"; that claim later turned out to be false.

Giuliani's stormy private life also may come under renewed scrutiny. His divorce from his second wife, Donna Hanover, was especially bitter. And as their marriage fell apart, Giuliani moved out of the mayor's mansion and stayed for a time with a gay couple in their Manhattan apartment.

But for many voters, such matters are likely to be eclipsed by the Giuliani they saw on Sept. 11. He put himself at risk when he quickly went to the World Trade Center before its twin towers collapsed. In the weeks that followed, he led New York's recovery effort with a reassuring, no-nonsense confidence. He was named Time magazine's "Man of the Year" in 2001. He became known as "America's Mayor."

Now, as Giuliani weighs whether that celebrity can be parlayed into a viable presidential bid, people close to him say he is genuinely undecided. But in the meantime, "he wants to be prepared if he decides to go forward," said a confidant, who requested anonymity when discussing private conversations with Giuliani.

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