Health Scare Comes at Bad Time for Giuliani

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has been fielding questions about his health after a headache landed him in a Missouri hospital last week. The incident comes at a bad time for Giuliani, who has begun to slip from national front-runner status into the middle of the pack in many early voting states.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Rudy Giuliani is among the presidential candidates taking today and tomorrow off. Then he's back on the campaign trail, not in Iowa or New Hampshire, but in Florida. Giuliani has seen his early substantial lead in national polls collapse in the last few weeks. In Iowa, he's running fifth, in New Hampshire maybe third. And last week, he had to turn his campaign plane around and spend the night in the hospital after suffering what he now describes as the worst headache he's ever had. Giuliani says his doctor will release details on his health later in the week. Here he is speaking yesterday on ABC's "This Week."

(Soundbite of TV show, "This Week")

Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Republican Mayor, New York): You know, I'm a cancer survivor so there's always the issue of cancer, so I'm going to have him put out a statement and then, you know, make everyone really comfortable that I'm okay.

BLOCK: Political correspondent Celeste Katz is covering the Giuliani campaign in the New York Daily News. And, Celeste, Rudy Giuliani - they're referring to his bout with prostate cancer diagnosed back in 2000 and one of the things that made him drop out of the New York senate race against Hillary Clinton at that time.

Ms. CELESTE KATZ (Political Correspondent, New York Daily News): Yes, that's right. He is going to have his doctor give a full report after Christmas that he says will basically explain that he's in excellent health. He went through a battery of tests. He said he's also awaiting some additional cancer tests, but for the most part, he says he's in absolute great health. He feels fine and that the doctor's report will explain that.

BLOCK: And when you were with him over the weekend in New Hampshire, how did he seem to you?

Ms. KATZ: He actually didn't seem bad. He seemed, you know, he was in good spirits. His color wasn't bad. He was enthusiastic. He was - he didn't seem tired in any way. He seemed like he was in a pretty good mood.

BLOCK: But a pretty light campaign schedule over the last couple of days.

Ms. KATZ: Right. He did have only a few events each day that we were with him up in New Hampshire this weekend and that might have been partly because he was trying to take it a little bit easy after having been in the hospital but also maybe just slowing things down slightly as a walk up to the Christmas holiday.

BLOCK: This health scare raised concerns also, though, because the original explanation from his staff was that Rudy Giuliani was suffering from flu-like symptoms. He later came out and said, no. Actually, that's not the case. I don't know why they said that.

Ms. KATZ: Yeah. Initially it was presented to everybody as him having exhibited some flu-like symptoms and later he came out and said that he had actually experienced what was the worst headache of his life, that it was exacerbated by the cabin pressure in the airplane, so they decided the best thing to do would be to turn around, go back, and have him check out.

When he was asked about that in New Hampshire, you know, why the campaign would have initially described it as flu-like symptoms, he basically said you'll have to ask them. I'm telling you what really happened. It was a very bad headache. But he said the doctor's report that will come out after the holiday will explain things in more detail and basically told us that what is going to come out is that he's in great health.

BLOCK: Rudy Giuliani has been pursuing an unconventional strategy in this race. He's pretty much been ignoring Iowa. He's been spending some time in New Hampshire but not a ton, and he's looking for this national strategy. He's putting a lot of money and effort on Florida, which doesn't vote until January 29th and then the super-duper Tuesday states who vote on February 5th. Can this work, do you think?

Ms. KATZ: Well, I think that people are asking that question a lot lately. And some of them maybe within the Giuliani campaign, but it's also important to remember that President Clinton did not place first in New Hampshire and George Bush lost the New Hampshire primary to John McCain in 2000. And McCain looks like he's actually getting a lot more traction in New Hampshire right now. So it's not necessarily a prerequisite to win the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary, but it certainly does help build up a sense of momentum. Giuliani is - I don't know if you want to call it gambling, but he's sort of looking toward a strategy that shows him doing better in some larger later-voting states. Whether it will work, I guess I'll have to buy the paper myself to find out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Time will tell. Celeste Katz, political correspondent for the New York Daily News. Celeste, thanks very much.

Ms. KATZ: Thank you for having me.

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