Giuliani Rides High as He Weighs 2008 Bid

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani moved toward a run for president this week, filing a "statement of candidacy" with the FEC (without actually announcing that he's running). He's leading in the polls — but some analysts see challenges ahead.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

With Rudy Giuliani's all but formal announcement that he's running for president, the former New York City mayor is getting a lot of publicity this week, and a lot of extra scrutiny. Giuliani has a unique and turbulent political history, one that is likely to be front and center in any presidential campaign.

NPR's Robert Smith reports from New York.

ROBERT SMITH: It could be a scene out of a New Hampshire primary, a whipping wind, single-digit temperatures, and a dozen TV cameras surrounding one handshaking politician.

Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Mayor, New York): How are you doing? Sure, you can shake my hand…

SMITH: But this is Long Island, a full year before the primaries. And the man, Rudy Giuliani, has been out of politics for five years, but he'd getting back in shape.

Mr. GIULIANI: This is what they say. Good practice for New Hampshire. And Iowa, Iowa can get a little cold.

SMITH: Dennis de Portia(ph) got one of the coveted handshakes, as he came out for commuter train from his job in Manhattan.

Mr. DENNIS de PORTIA (Worker, Manhattan): Well, I figured I was in the World Trade Center. So what's that I probably feel a little more stay closer to him than the average person whatever, so... Now, when you're living in Des Moines, or you're living in Jackson, Mississippi, whatever, I don't know if they care as much as we do.

SMITH: That's the question of the core, Giuliani's presidential ambition. Can the actions of one man on one day propel him to the White House?

Mr. GIULIANI: I don't know that I'm really able to describe it. It was the most horrific scene I've ever seen in my whole life.

SMITH: On September 11th, Giuliani became a national father figure. There was the iconic image of him walking away from Ground Zero covered in dust. The mixed of resolve and compassion, as he spoke to the nation.

Mr. GIULIANI: Terrorism can stop us. American democracy is much stronger than a vicious cowardly terrorist. And we're going to overcome this.

SMITH: It's hard to even believe that on the day before the terrorist attacks Rudy Giuliani's political life was almost over. He was a lame duck mayor with low approval ratings and a personal life in turmoil. He'd given up his shot to run for the Senate against Hillary Clinton.

Mr. WAYNE BARRETT (Editor, The Village Voice): He was a dead man walking politically. He had no place to go.

SMITH: Wayne Barrett is an editor at The Village Voice, and the author of two critical books on Rudy Giuliani. Certainly, Barrett says, New York City was safer and more economically solvent than when Giuliani took office, but…

Mr. BARRETT: People just really tired of the tough guy Rudy routine. He had the Diallo case and the Dorismond case, which were cases of police shootings that alarmed the city and deepened the racial divide. The way he handled those cases traumatized most New Yorkers.

SMITH: Barrett's latest book, "Grand Illusion," makes the case that Giuliani did little to effectively prepare New York City for a terrorist attack before September 11th. And there is this day a real debate about how much of the drop in crime and economic boom Giuliani can really take credit for. Another Giuliani biographer, Fred Siegel, who wrote "Prince of the City," says that the mayor made a lot of enemies during his tenure, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Mr. FRED SIEGEL (Biographer of Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani): Giuliani was abrasive. He was hard edge. That's the only reason he got anything done in New York.

SMITH: Siegel, who once advised Giuliani, says that the 2008 presidential race will center on confidence. And that Giuliani can clearly point to years as mayor, as proof that he can be effective.

Mr. SIEGEL: He's very won key. He's very much like Bill Clinton. They love digging into - into the mechanics of government, taking the engine of government apart, trying to put it back together again. That gets overshadowed by his operatic personality.

SMITH: With his reemergence into politics after lucrative years as a security consultant and a high-priced speaker, Giuliani is taking advantage of the early publicity to help redefine his image, especially for more conservative Republican voters. Giuliani has perfected an ideological two-step, as he showed up on Fox News this week. He's affront about his moderate social positions, like on abortion.

Mr. GIULIANI: I believe on a woman's right to choose.

SMITH: Then he softens it a little with a signal that he won't go to war with conservatives over the issue.

Mr. GIULIANI: I would appoint judges that interpreted the Constitution rather than invented it.

SMITH: It's a subtlety that might come as a surprise to New Yorkers used to a blustery combative Giuliani, but then 9/11 proved that Giuliani had more political grace than anyone expected.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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