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GOP Race: Are Republicans ready for Rudy?

[PoliticsWatch updated 6:00 p.m., March 12, 2007]

Republicans are warming up to Rudy Giuliani, a presidential candidate from the blue state of New York. 

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani appears on the verge of doing something that would make even the late Yankee great Mickey Mantle's jaw drop.   

Are red state Republicans on their way to nominating a big city mayor from a blue state with a history of supporting abortion and gay rights as their next candidate for president? 

PoliticsWatch goes behind the numbers to look at the big story so far in the 2008 Republican presidential race and why Giuliani's progressive positions is not hurting him in the polls.

The New Darling of the Right. 

In an interview with PBS in 2004, Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press, recounted a conversation he had with Giuliani about the possibility of running against Hillary Clinton in the 2006 Senate race. 

"If you beat her, then all the conservative Republicans will say, 'Well, I know about abortion and gay rights, but he beat Hillary Clinton,'” Russert recalled. 

"I said, 'You’d be the darling of the Right.' He said, 'I wouldn’t be a darling to anybody. I’m from Brooklyn.'”

But move ahead three years later and Giuliani is quickly becoming the darling of the political right and he hasn't even defeated Clinton yet.  

Poll after poll released in recent weeks shows that Giuliani not only would win the Republican nomination if it were today, but that he beats every Democratic candidate heads up, including Clinton.  

In seven polls released over the past month, Giuliani comes out ahead of Democratic Senator Barak Obama six times, with an average margin of victory of 3.9 per cent. 

There have been five head-to-head polls in the past two weeks offering voters a choice between Clinton and Giuliani. Giuliani has won all five with an average spread of five per cent. 

Despite the unpopularity of Republican President George W. Bush and the Iraq War and the Democrats recently winning back control of Congress, Giuliani is proving to be a major obstacle for the DNC's hopes of winning the White House in 2008. 

Giuliani's primary competitor, Arizona Senator John McCain, does not fare quite as well in head to head polls with Clinton and Obama. He has won two and lost two recent polls against Clinton and comes in second in four of five recent polls heads up with Obama. 

The news is particularly bad for McCain, who finished second to Bush in the 2000 primaries.  

Dating back to 1980, the Republicans have traditionally handed their nomination to the runner up in the previous primaries. Ronald Reagan finished second to Gerald Ford in 1976, George Bush Sr. finished second to Reagan in 1980 and Bob Dole finished second to Bush in 1988. 

As recently as last October, McCain and Giuliani were in a virtual tie according to opinion polls. But Giuliani has slowly opened up a massive lead. 

The latest CNN poll of registered Republicans shows Giuliani has a 16-point lead on McCain with 34 per cent compared to 18 per cent. 

The presidential races in the two major parties have now reversed the expectations of analysts. While Clinton was supposed to cruise to victory while the Republicans fought it out it is now Clinton who is engaged in a battle for her party's throne. 

All the more surprising is that Giuliani is opening up this lead in a party that has recently had a litmus test for candidates on abortion and gay rights. 

While running for mayor of New York in 1989 and 1993, Giuliani campaigned as a pro-choice candidate. In addition, Giuliani's tax returns shows he made $500 contributions to Planned Parenthood in 1994 and 1998. He has also advocated in the past that the Republican party platform be changed on the abortion issue. 

So why has Giuliani been given a free pass by Republicans? 

Some have argued that Republican voters have decided that while the country is engaged in a long-war against terrorism they are willing to overlook traditional litmus tests on social issues for someone who is a leader and understands the war.  

Giuliani is clearly on the same page as most Conservatives on the War on Terror and struggle against Islamic extremists. 

"There is the war, which overwhelms everything as the major issue in the eyes of the base," wrote Noemie Emery in the most recent Weekly Standard.  

"No group in the country backs the war on terror as fervently as social conservatives, whose main criticism of the president's policy is that it has not been aggressive enough. To them, Rudy is the ultimate warrior, a man who not only survived 9/11 and rallied the city, but whose success in routing the gangs of New York is a template for engaging the Islamic terrorists, and an indication that he has the resolve and the relentlessness to carry this bloody task off."

However, this argument doesn't match recent reality. After all, the U.S. was engaged in the same war in 2004 when Bush won a second election. Exit polling at that time showed Bush's victory was largely due to the conservative base being motivated by the president's strong opposition to gay marriage. 

A recent poll by the Wall Street Journal reveals the possible Achilles heel of Giuliani's GOP bid. 

"Fully three of four Republicans -- including a majority of those backing the former New York City mayor -- say they would have reservations if they learned Mr. Giuliani supports abortion rights and supports civil unions for gay and lesbian couples," the poll concluded. 

As it turns out, Republicans are not embracing Giuliani's progressive side, they just have not discovered it yet.  

"Like Colin Powell thirteen years ago, Giuliani is a popular figure and compelling prospective nominee," wrote The American Spectator's James Antle III. "But pro-lifers should think long and hard before they work to nominate and elect a Republican with an abortion record virtually indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton's."

Giuliani has never disavowed his pro-choice position, but has recently tried to quell criticism by saying he would have nominated the same judges the pro-life George Bush nominated to the Supreme Court during his time in office. 

Another thing working to Giuliani's advantage is his two current challengers -- McCain and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney -- have their own problems with the party's base as well. 

McCain is more beloved by David Letterman, John Stewart and the Washington press corps more than he is by the party's base for a variety of reasons including his maverick persona. And Romney became governor in the liberal state of Massachusetts by running as a pro-choice candidate who was supportive of gay rights. Romney has recently reversed his pro-choice position. 

This has yet to stop Romney from attacking Giuliani. "He is pro-choice, he is pro-gay marriage, and anti-gun," he said in a recent interview with Christian Broadcast News. "That's a tough combination in a Republican primary." 

In a story headlined "GOP opponents say now it's Rudy's turn," the Politico reported on campaign strategists for both McCain and Romney openly discussing their plans to bring attention to Giuliani's perceived weaknesses. 

And this is not limited to just the abortion and gay marriage issues. Giuliani's soap opera personal life, which has seen three marriages, appears like it will be fair game. 

“When you’re running for president, there is always a ‘but,’” noted a Romney adviser. “When you start looking to Rudy’s but’s” -- issues, family life, former clients – “there’s lots of buts.”

“He exploded on the national scene not as an elected official, but as ‘America’s Mayor,’” a McCain aide told the website. “Most nationally known figures have gone through the vetting process of a national campaign. He was not introduced through the traditional process. It’s not like he had to be elected America’s Mayor.” 

But with Giuliani currently beating both Clinton and Obama in virtually all the opinion polls and McCain and Romney not catching fire with the public Republicans will have to ask themselves if they can tolerate Giuliani's buts. 

If they can't, expect former House speaker Newt Gingrich to enter the race, either as a candidate or as the person who will give the blessing to one of the three frontrunners on behalf of the party's base.  

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