Giuliani shuns campaign smackdown

January 22, 2008 6:46:14 PM PST
Check it out, New York. Rudy Giuliani is being nice.

In the fight of his political life heading into Florida's Republican presidential primary next Tuesday, the famously unapologetic former mayor is largely refraining from criticizing his rivals. Even when handed golden opportunities to smack opponents, Giuliani politely declines.

"I don't believe that Republicans should be attacking each other," explained Giuliani who built a reputation on ruthlessness, his wife, Judith, smiling sweetly at his side.

Giuliani briefly took his rivals to task this past weekend. He went after fellow GOP White House hopeful John McCain for not supporting President Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, saying McCain doesn't "have that same fervor" for lowering taxes. He criticized McCain, as well as Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, though none by name, for spending too much time in Washington or state capitals ? "central governments that have plans to straighten things out for you."

But he's backed off since and seems determined to stay there.

For instance, Giuliani has campaigned hard here on his support for an issue of paramount concern to Floridians, a national catastrophic insurance fund. The idea is to create a federally backed consortium of states to pool catastrophe risk and make insurance more affordable for cash-strapped residents in disaster zones. It's a top federal priority for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and other state politicians of both parties.

McCain categorically said Monday that he isn't for it. Perfect material handed to Giuliani on a silver platter, right?

Not so.

Giuliani has had his surrogates criticize McCain. His state chairman, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, boarded the Giuliani press bus after McCain's remarks to call the Arizona senator "out of touch" with state voters and say he showed "he doesn't understand one of the most important issues for the economic revitalization of Florida." Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Joe Russo introduced Giuliani at TooJay's Original Gourmet Deli here Tuesday to ridicule McCain's statement that FEMA, the federal disaster agency, was all that was needed.

But listen to Giuliani on the topic.

"As far as I can tell, at least among the Republicans, I'm the only candidate supporting it," he said. Asked if he agreed with McCollum and Russo that McCain is out of touch, Giuliani said he didn't. "I agree with the assessment that I gave: I'm the one that supports it," he said.

Giuliani is also being relatively gentle as he claims his Republican rivals lack experience and resolve on cutting taxes, almost never mentioning them by name.

Sometimes, he's so magnanimous, he sounds like he is campaigning for the other guys.

"These are all good guys," Giuliani said Monday at Daytona International Speedway. "Each one of these men is a very fine public servant. ... Each of these men has a good argument for the presidency."

He added that he doesn't intend to get too attack-dog about the race. "We have some disagreements here and there. We're going to explore them. But it'll be done in a respectful way," Giuliani said.

Any New Yorker who lived through Giuliani's years as mayor knows the man relishes a fight. From windshield squeegee men to mobsters, to the crime rate and the welfare rolls, he wasn't known for reticence or for playing nice.

And Giuliani's White House hopes are in fairly dire straits now.

Every state he has made a play for proved unresponsive, so his campaign decided in the last few weeks to pin everything on winning Florida and its winner-take-all prize of 57 delegates. But even in Florida, Giuliani's double-digit poll lead from just two months ago has withered and he's now in a four-way tie ? or worse ? with the rest of the GOP field. There are only seven days until Floridians vote in what even Giuliani has baldly said is all the marbles. Looking beyond, polls in his home state of New York, which votes Feb. 5, show Giuliani now behind or tied with McCain. It seems like there's no better time for Giuliani to give this campaign his all, including a few well-placed zingers. So what gives? A few things, said GOP strategist Tony Fabrizio, who is not affiliated with any campaign. There's the tactical consideration ? what Fabrizio called the "pool table" problem posed by a multi-candidate race ? that criticizing, say, McCain would help Giuliani, but also help Romney. That's because some of the voters Giuliani pulls from McCain could go to him, but a big portion could also go to Romney. "They are in a very difficult situation," he said of the Giuliani campaign. "I don't think it's a clear shot for him to figure out who to go after." And then there's the campaign's general lack of strategy or consistent message, resulting in disarray, Fabrizio said. Giuliani is fading everywhere he has tried to play, and this has happened without any of the other candidates criticizing him or airing one negative ad, Fabrizio noted. "All they did was go backward from the day they got in to today," he said. "It's the incredible disappearing Rudy Giuliani." The Giuliani campaign declined to discuss their strategy.