GWEN IFILL: Next, Rudy Giuliani heating up New Hampshire. Ray Suarez has our Election ’08 update.
RAY SUAREZ: Just a few weeks ago, Rudy Giuliani’s campaign was outlining a national strategy, targeting several large states, and almost dismissing the importance of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. But this weekend, the former New York City mayor launched a statewide bus tour of the Granite State, appearing at town hall meetings in Laconia and Hampton, marching in Salem’s holiday parade, and greeting potential voters all along the way.
But what surprised many political watchers was the tone of Giuliani’s New Hampshire blitz. In speeches and interviews, he chose to level criticisms at only one of his Republican rivals, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who’s leading in the New Hampshire polls.
On fighting crime, cutting taxes, and providing affordable health care, Giuliani charged Romney had failed as a governor, prompting Romney to issue a point-by-point rebuttal.
Jonathan Martin of Politico.com was with Giuliani in New Hampshire this weekend and joins us now, as does Matt Bai, author of the book “The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics.” He’s also a contributing writer to the New York Times magazine and recently wrote an extensive profile of Rudy Giuliani.
And, Jonathan Martin, until now, the Romney and Giuliani campaigns seemed to be running on different tracks, Giuliani with his “win big state” strategy and Romney with his “win early” strategy, but they had a head-on collision this last week.
JONATHAN MARTIN, Politico.com: They sure did. I mean, Giuliani is making very obvious that he wants to not just play New Hampshire, but really win there, too. And there’s three ways that we kind of know that now.
The first is he’s gone up there on TV. It’s the first state where he’s airing television ads, and it’s, for right now at least, the only state where he’s got TV ads. And I saw two of them in about an half-an-hour period on the Boston CBS affiliate in my hotel room on Saturday.
Secondly, he’s spending more time there. When you do a bus tour over two days with numerous stops — and he actually stayed over for a third day this morning, too — in the state where retail politicking is sort of a demand of the voters there, that sends a pretty strong signal.
And then, lastly, the fact that he did use New Hampshire to launch some pretty tough attacks on Mitt Romney, you know, all three of those signs point to him really wanting to get a victory in one of these early states and thinking that New Hampshire is probably the best place to actually do it.
Fighting for New Hampshire
RAY SUAREZ: But, Matt Bai, by taking that new tone, one previously reserved by Giuliani only for Democratic candidates for president, does he open himself up for a critique that he hasn't had to withstand so far?
MATT BAI, New York Times Magazine: Yes, sure, he does, but this is inevitable. I think this was coming no matter what, because these two guys are trying to stand on the same patch of ground.
And to the extent that both of them hung around for long enough and were high up in the polls, there was going to be this kind of dogfight, I think, because you're talking about two guys whose stances on social conservative issues are not what the base of the party would like them to be, and so they've had to overcome that, two guys from liberal states -- in Giuliani's case, a city -- and two guys who are really talking about competence in management and their ability to be sort of true to George W. Bush's principles, but to be better managers, to be hands-on technocrats.
And it's impossible for two guys that big at the top of the field to stand in the exact same place, to try to occupy, you know, what's very limited ground, without trying to knock each other down. And I think, as we got closer and closer to the actual voting, I think that was inevitable.
JONATHAN MARTIN: And, plus, I think Giuliani, too, recognized the fact that the prospect of Romney sweeping the early states, coming out of the gates, you know, 3-0 or 4-0 before Giuliani got to Florida later in January, where he really hopes to do well, was a serious threat to his hopes. And so Giuliani wanted to try and get a win somewhere; New Hampshire makes the most sense.
RAY SUAREZ: But doesn't the size of the field mean that each candidate, in effect, sets his own benchmarks for what success looks like? McCain has talked, in effect, tried to make himself plausible by staying close in New Hampshire. Huckabee in Iowa. Others, Fred Thompson in South Carolina. Everybody is saying, "Well, here's the place I have to do well."
JONATHAN MARTIN: Here's the key difference. Giuliani and Romney both fancy themselves as national candidates who don't have to pick and choose which states they're going to play or do well in. You know, they very much want to portray themselves as, you know, top-tier national campaigns who are going to run as such, and so they don't want to pick and choose.
And so Giuliani now very much wants to win New Hampshire. If that happens, and if Huckabee can either beat or at least bloody Romney in Iowa, we're going to have a really hard-fought contest here.
RAY SUAREZ: Does these two men, Romney and Giuliani, making each other the issue create an opening for men like John McCain or Mike Huckabee?
MATT BAI: Well, the Republican field has nothing but openings. I think what it's lacking is actually something standing in the way. You know, because everything is very unsettled.
I mean, look, I think Jonathan is right about -- the plans you talk about, that is everybody setting their own benchmarks about how you win this thing, those are plans of convenience. It's nice to think, as Giuliani has and has said, you know, "We're going to go, and we're going to win California, Florida," Super Tuesday states that he knows he can compete in, "and we don't have to win in Iowa and New Hampshire," maybe that's true.
But all recent history tells us, as you were saying, that that's a very hard row, that if you're going to lose the first couple contests -- and especially if one person is in line to win them both, even if he's a favorite son in New Hampshire, which Romney effectively is -- it's very, very hard to come off the mat and still convince people that you're a candidate of the moment.
And so I think when Giuliani sees an opening in New Hampshire, whatever the polling they're doing, when they see the possibility to at least come very, very close or to beat Romney, it's an opportunity they have to take.
RAY SUAREZ: Did other members of the Republican field assume that gravity was going to take care of Rudy Giuliani and now realize they actually have to fight him toe-to-toe as a candidate?
JONATHAN MARTIN: Ray, I think a lot of folks in politics thought that, certainly, and that has not happened yet. It's almost December. He's still in a very, very strong place in national polls and some of these later, larger states. The inevitable fall has not been inevitable, actually. He is still doing quite well.
His challenge, though, is this, is that he cannot afford -- he's shown that now, given the events over the past weekend -- he cannot afford to let Romney come out of the gate strong and run the table, and he wants to get a win somewhere early. And, obviously, he's looking to New Hampshire to do that.
But the fact is, is that all this baggage that has been talked about, you know, ad nauseum, has not yet at least weighed him down. The key question, I think, guys, is this, is if and when there are paid ads, if there is a candidate who goes negative on him, citing either his personal issues or some of his more liberal cultural leanings, then that's going to be the true test.
At that point, does he then fall? Do his numbers sink? Because right now, at least, you know, many folks know about those issues, and they're just not caring, seemingly.
Defining Giuliani's strategy
RAY SUAREZ: Well, do you agree, first off, that those are the things that are going to trip him up? Or is there some risk embedded in the national security strategy, making yourself the national security candidate when your previous job was mayor of New York?
MATT BAI: Yes, I think there are a couple other things. I mean, look, attacks only work, right, in politics when they go at the thing you put yourself out as.
In other words, calling Giuliani a rotten guy in his personal life isn't going to hurt him, because people don't vote for Rudy Giuliani because they think he's a guy they want to leave their children with while they go to the supermarket. I mean, he's not a nice guy, per se. He's the guy who's going to keep you safe at night, you know, when you're sleeping. And this is who he's held himself out as.
What hurts him, I think potentially, is if people go after the stuff on Bernard Kerik and the association there with his former police commissioner and business partner who's now facing corruption charges. When people talk about the record on September 11th and talk about whether, in fact, he was a great manager, why are there questions he's never had to answer for, because, in those instances, you're going after the two things that are central to his persona as a candidate, which are his integrity and his ability to lead and lead in a crisis.
And those questions may not -- some of them may not come up in a Republican primary, because the nature of a primary is different, and that would be an awfully tough hit to come out at him with, but should he be the nominee, that's going to dominate months of the campaign.
National security candidate
RAY SUAREZ: Well, are any of the other members of the Republican field taking on those issues? Was he the man who saved New York? Was he the stalwart of September 11th and so on?
JONATHAN MARTIN: Well, the key difference, Ray, is this, is that Romney especially is starting to raise some of those issues. He talked about Bernie Kerik yesterday in New Hampshire, comparing the ethical failings of Kerik and Giuliani's judgment on Kerik to the Clinton White House and some of their ethics. Those are fighting words in GOP politics.
The key difference, though, is this: Romney is not yet putting any TV behind his rhetoric. He's saying so on the stump. He's saying so to reporters in interviews, but he's not yet launching radio or television ads, taking on Giuliani's issues, like Kerik. I think if he does that, it could be a very different ball game.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Fred Thompson, Matt Bai, may have started to nibble at it, by suggesting that running New York is different from running the rest of the country. Is there some possibility, is there some mileage in that tactic, reminding Republican voters who, if not historically had a tremendous affection or affinity for New York, that this guy's not like you?
MATT BAI: In a normal year, yes. I mean, theoretically that would be a big problem for Rudy Giuliani, but when you look at field -- Romney is from Massachusetts. I mean, if there's anything worse than New York City for Republican voters, it's Massachusetts, right?
And then you look at how Giuliani has handled the social conservative issues, which I think is one of the most interesting and sort of under-discussed pictures of the year, his argument here, which has effectively been to say, "Look, we may not see eye-to-eye on gay rights, and we may not see eye-to-eye on abortion. We certainly don't." But you know what? The biggest cultural issue right now is what he calls Islamofascism. "It's the onslaught of radical Islam, that this is a religious and cultural issue, and that if that's the paramount issue, I'm your guy."
You know, that's the kind of argument where, when he started, I thought, "Well, that's not going to work." And I think it has, to a large extent, because it's kept him -- you know, if you look at his poll numbers, I think you'd have to conclude that argument has been more effective than a lot of people thought it would be.
RAY SUAREZ: Matt Bai, Jonathan Martin, thank you both.
JONATHAN MARTIN: Thank you, Ray.
MATT BAI: Anytime. Thanks, Ray.