Secure in New Jersey, Giuliani at risk of being coastal candidate

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani tomorrow will debut a television ad on Fox News that refocuses the campaign narrative on Sept. 11, 2001.

The former New York mayor remains New Jersey’s Republican frontrunner in the race for president, with 38% support among GOP voters, or 26% more than the number two man in the Republican field here, Sen. John McCain, according to a Dec. 13th Quinnipiac University poll.

But following a month-long barrage of bad news, including information about his use of city resources to facilitate an extra-marital affair, the same poll shows that his numbers are down from 48% on Oct. 17th. Nationally, the onetime blue ribbon prospect now finds himself in second place behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, according to the latest GWU Battleground Poll.

“He’s not going to lose New Jersey,” said Dr. Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth University’s Polling Institute. “But the problem is he thought this was going to be a two-person race.

“With the emergence of Huckabee and apparent re-emergence of Sen. (John) McCain to compete with in addition to Mitt Romney, Giuliani is going to lose votes in southern states like Texas, Florida and South Carolina,” Murray added. “The news about the extra-marital affair has really hurt him with evangelicals in the south, who are now getting behind Huckabee.”

Murray acknowledged that the mayor’s response to the World Trade Center attacks was initially what drew voters to him, but said part of the candidate’s trouble is that he hasn’t offered anything new except the knowledge that he’s more liberal on social issues than some of his opponents.

“And that doesn’t help him in a Republican primary,” said Murray.

In response to the mostly negative headlines and his predictably lackluster but potentially fateful polling in early primary states, the candidate’s handlers this week brightly reiterated Giulaini’s commitment to a broader electoral strategy.

“We’ve always expected polls would get tighter as we get closer to Iowa and New Hampshire,” said Jarrod Agen, regional communications director. “We’re the only campaign running a national campaign, and we’re still in great position to win Florida.”

Agen pointed to tomorrow’s 9/11 ad – which will run in New Hampshire and Florida – as a gut-check moment. Against a gritty backdrop of images from the World War II era contrasted with shots from the World Trade Center attacks, Giuliani says in the ad, “When you challenge Americans, there’s no country that stands up stronger and better than the United States of America. When you try and take something away from us like freedom, my goodness, Americans are going to be one in resisting you. So, the Islamic terrorists would make a terrible mistake if they confuse our democracy for weakness.”

Whatever the tough terrain between now and the New Jersey primary, Morris County Republican Chairman John Sette, a member of the campaign’s chairmans’ inner circle, said he isn’t worried about a gimpy Giuliani finish in Iowa and New Hampshire. They’re two liberal states, in his estimation, that won’t be relevant on Feb. 5th, when New Jersey and over 20 other states hold their primaries. However, Sette’s conscious of what’s happening in those states as he helps to coordinate local volunteer efforts aimed at boosting Giuliani where he’s weakest.

“In Morris County, our volunteers have been making 4,000 calls a week into Iowa and New Hampshire,” said the GOP chairman. “The Giuliani campaign’s providing us with cellphones to make the calls.”

Agen said Republicans are conducting similar efforts throughout New Jersey. “We’re building from the grassroots up with the help of Sen. Tom Kean, Jr., in the north, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo in the south, and (Giulaini campaign) state chairman George Gilmore.”

Diehards like Sette welcome Giuliani’s presence on a general election ticket as a boon to New Jersey Republicans like Assemblyman Joe Pennacchio, a Sette-ally who’s running for U.S. Senate. Those county chairmen who haven’t officially endorsed a presidential candidate likewise can’t deny the 9/11 hero’s top-of-the-ticket appeal in New Jersey.

“From a personal standpoint, I would want Giuliani,” said Burlington County Republican Chairman Bill Layton, who’s eyeballing a tough U.S. Congressional race in 2008 for whoever the Republican nominee is in the 3rd district. “Giuliani presents an opportunity to lighten the load for us down ballot. It’s important that we have a presidential candidate who is successful in New Jersey.”

Agen dismissed the suggestion that Giulaini faces an insurmountable obstacle in southern states. “I think everyone is familiar with Mayor Giulaini’s leadership,” said the communications director. “That’s what people associate with Mayor Giuliani. That’s what people see.”

But it’s not all they see, if the polls are to be believed.

“In early polls, Giulaini was pulling strong support from the evangelical wing of the party,” said Murray. “But once they started getting to know him, they abandoned him. He does well in Connecticut, New York, California and New Jersey, but not in some of these other key Republican states.”

Secure in New Jersey, Giuliani at risk of being coastal candidate