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THE NATION | REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

Giuliani plays it close to the vest

In New Hampshire, he lists reasons to vote for him -- if he runs.

January 28, 2007|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Will he or won't he?

The Rudy Giuliani Mystery Theater played the Palace on Saturday, a brief engagement at the city's landmark performing arts center and perennial campaign stop here in the first presidential primary state.

He gave away nothing about plans for a White House run.

Speaking from notes on a stage bathed by 12 small spotlights, the former New York mayor offered carefully qualified remarks to a convention of Republican activists. There were plenty of "ifs," as in: "People should vote for me or someone else, if I run ... because they believe we can make this country better."

Outside, after his entourage bulled its way through the lobby crowd, Giuliani spoke with reporters just long enough to elude the presidential question with talk of examining his "heart and soul."

Giuliani finds himself in the happy position of sitting atop many opinion polls, even as he remains officially on the sidelines. While other candidates leap into the White House fray -- former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is expected to join the Republican contest Monday -- Giuliani remains coy.

Asked his timetable for a decision, he said Saturday that there was none. "The timetable is: when's the right time?" he said.

So far, the most noteworthy aspect of Giuliani's exploratory efforts has been the surfacing of an internal strategy document -- the Giuliani camp says it was pilfered -- which gave the world a look at 140 pages of campaign analysis, including the ex-mayor's perceived pitfalls. (Among them, his messy divorce and ties to disgraced former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.) But for the last two days in New Hampshire, at least, Giuliani displayed all the trappings of a bona fide presidential contender -- including some he could have done without.

On Friday, he drew several hundred people to a Chamber of Commerce dinner in Littleton, in the White Mountains. On Saturday, he received a standing ovation and repeated applause from several hundred more at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee meeting in Manchester, delivering a speech that was long on platitudes and short on specifics:

"You've got a beautiful state. A beautiful state in the winter. A beautiful state in the summer."

He put some distance between himself and President Bush -- "I don't agree with him on everything," Giuliani said -- and also subtly differed with his proclaimed hero, President Reagan, on the proper role of government. Where Reagan once declared government part of the problem, Giuliani took a more measured view, suggesting, "We need to make government work again, as Republicans. Because we're the more practical party."

New Hampshire may be uniquely suited to the promise and perils of a Giuliani presidential run.

His profile -- permissive for a Republican on social issues, conservative on fiscal matters -- is well tailored to a state where Republicans tend to be moderate and independents can vote in the GOP primary. "Anybody who's been to New York in the last few years can't help but be impressed," said Charles Arlinghaus, a longtime Republican activist and head of a free-market think tank in Concord.

But Giuliani's famously prickly style could be a problem. New Hampshire voters expect a highly personal touch, not the kind of imperious display the Giuliani camp put on Saturday. As the ex-mayor was being swept into an SUV outside the Palace Theatre, a man pushed his way forward and threw an arm over Giuliani's shoulder, posing for a picture. A burly security guard lifted the man's arm off, like a piece of bad meat.

"He's only been exposed to rock star audiences up here," said Andrew Smith, the state's top political pollster. "What happens when he's asked not tough questions, but annoying questions? It will be interesting to see how Giuliani deals with them."

mark.barabak@latimes.com

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