Rudy Giuliani Gets Top National Poll Numbers Despite Stumbles (UPDATED)
So far he has weathered the media’s breathless anticipation of the highly touted Fred Thompson enters-the-GOP-race firestorm (or fizzle?). He has survived an onslaught of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who this week suffered several bouts of foot-in-mouth disease (so, Mr. Romney, your sons’ working on your campaign is REALLY the equivalent of them risking getting blown up in a steaming desert in Iraq??!).
And despite his own bouts of that terrible toes-in-mouth affliction, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is still riding high atop not just the GOP but national political heap:
The latest USA Today/Gallup poll finds Americans most positive in their assessment of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani out of eight possible presidential candidates in next year’s election.
The public is also more positive than negative in their ratings of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. Views of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and former Vice President Al Gore are equally positive and negative, and Americans’ views toward Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are more negative than positive. In recent weeks, McCain’s and Obama’s unfavorable ratings have increased significantly and are now the highest Gallup has ever measured for these men.
And Gallup has an even bigger batch of good news for Giuliani:
Giuliani is the only candidate who has a majority favorable rating — 55% of Americans rate him favorably, while 32% rate him unfavorably.
Of course, is GOP and Democratic opponents will try do do something about that. AND:
Giuliani also has the highest “net” favorable rating of any of the candidates (percentage favorable minus percentage unfavorable), at +23. Three other presidential hopefuls also have high net favorable ratings — Obama +14, Edwards +12, and Thompson +11. Gore’s net favorable rating is +2. Americans’ opinions about McCain and Clinton are evenly divided, with net favorable ratings at -1 for McCain and -2 for Clinton. Romney is rated more negatively than any of the other candidates on this measure, with a net favorable rating of -9.
All this is amid a campaign where some of the bloom has fallen off the long-blossoming Giuliani rose.
Although he and his supporters still tout him as “America’s Mayor” due to his job performance on 911, Giuliani’s campaign was marked by poor early debate performances (he has done VERY well since then), Cheney-type demonization rhetoric that paints Democrats as being soft on terrorism and perhaps even a threat to the physical well-being of the United States, and rhetoric almost John McCain-like in support of the war on Iraq and Bush administration terrorism/surveillance policies.
Some critics consider him an overcaffeinated George Bush. But, to be sure, Giuliani does have his “feminine side”:
Actually, that photo was a joke (not some new GOP sex-related scandal) that critics claim will come back to haunt him. But WILL IT? It further humanizes Rudy as someone who isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. (So he dresses in drag to get a laugh at an event? After all, Tony Snow gets laughs every time he delivers a serious statement insisting the administration never claimed Saddam Hussein was connected to 911.)
But Giuliani recently stumbled badly — in a bit of rhetoric that is “high concept” enough to be replayed on talk radio shows, on cable — and eventually on anti-Giuliani commercials:
Rudy Giuliani drew outrage and indignation from Sept. 11 first-responders yesterday by saying he spent as much time – or more – exposed to the site’s dangers as workers who dug through the debris for the missing and the dead.
Speaking to reporters at a Cincinnati Reds ballgame he caught between fund-raisers, the GOP front-runner said he helped 9/11 families and defended himself against critics of how he managed the attack’s aftermath.
“This is not a mayor or a governor or a President who’s sitting in an ivory tower,” Giuliani said. “I was at Ground Zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers. I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I’m one of them.”
The reaction was swift:
His statement rang false to Queens paramedic Marvin Bethea, who said he suffered a stroke, posttraumatic stress disorder and breathing problems after responding to the attacks.
“I personally find that very, very insulting,” he said.
“Standing there doing a photo-op and telling the men, ‘You’re doing a good job,’ I don’t consider that to be working,” said Bethea, 47.
Ironworker Jonathan Sferazo, 52, who said he spent a month at the site and is now disabled, runs a worker advocacy group with Bethea and called Giuliani’s comments “severely” out of line.
“He’s not one of us. He never has been and he never will be. He never served in a capacity where he was a responder,” Sferazo said.
With a slip of the lip and a show of the ego, Giuliani gave his political foes, such as Rep. Charles Rangel, a pefect political opening — because he made a statement that was bound to be disputed. So the media was virtually required to seek other opinions. Like Rangel’s:
Rangel said, “He was never one of our boys. He was a bum. He was a terrible man. It’s the post 9/11, when we couldn’t find the president, and he was fearlessly walking up and down the streets. And that’s the guy that America has known. But now the firemen are coming out, the emergency medical people are coming out, his kids are coming out. You know, people are going to find out who is this guy, and it’s not going to be kind.”
Rangel told a New York reporter how polarizing Giuliani was as mayor, but admitted that on 911 he looked darn good:
“Yes, because he filled a vacuum. When we couldn’t find the president in 9/11, he was there. Whether decisions he’s made was right — whether we should go to the same World Trade Center that was bombed before in order to put this emergency — whether or not they should have had masks, you know, that’s something. But there’s no question that a city that was frightened — and I was one of the first down there to support the mayor, Republicans and Democrats, this is no time to be partisan. And he was there and he stood tallâ€¦ Giuliani looked like he was in charge, and that’s what we needed then. We were confused, we were frightened, and he was there.”
He tried to do some damage control, but found himself in an exchange with Democratic Presidential wannabe John Edwards:
Asked about his comments Friday morning by Mike Gallagher, a talk radio host, Mr. Giuliani conceded that he â€œprobably could have said it better.â€
â€œBut I wasnâ€™t trying to suggest a competition of any kind, which is the way it come across,â€ he said. â€œYou know, what I was saying was â€˜Iâ€™m there with you.â€™ â€
John Edwards, seeking the Democratic nomination, joined firefighters and police unions in attacking Mr. Giulianiâ€™s comments Friday, saying, â€œIt seems that Giuliani is determined to take every opportunity to exploit the memory of 9/11 for political gain, rather than honor the incredible sacrifices of our first responders.â€
The Giuliani camp shot back, through Katie Levinson, a top spokeswoman. â€œFor John Edwards to lecture Rudy Giuliani about September 11th is laughable at best. This is, after all, the same guy who thinks the War on Terror is simply a â€˜bumper sticker.â€™ â€
And what can be concluded by all of this?
(1) Giuliani will be vulnerable on 911. His use of the imagery will be limited because there will be a concerted campaign (already underway) to strip away the aura of strength he projected on 911.
(2) His still high poll numbers mean he is virtually walking around with a sign HIT ME PLEASE on his back. And political foes within the GOP and in the Democratic party will do just that.
(3) A lot hinges on whether Fred Thompson catches on quickly once he enters the GOP Presidential sweepstakes. Thompson has never been under the kind of pressure and scrutiny that he will be under. But Giuliani HAS as mayor of New York. Thompson will likely be able to dish it out but will he be able to take it?
(4) He still remains highly vulnerable due to his past and some present positions on social issues so his poll numbers could change if Thompson performs even moderately well as a candidate.
(5) But if is poll ratings remain strong, GOPers fearing a massive 2008 wipe out may want to hold their noses and go with Giuliani, even if they can’t stand the smell of some of his less conservative positions on some key issues. A massive 2008 electoral debacle would be a bigger drag for even social conservative Republicans than Giuliani in a skirt and wig.
(6) The problem for Giuliani is that as he courts conservative talk show hosts and has conference calls with conservative bloggers he may be making the same error Senator John McCain has made: he is seemingly writing off the country’s increasingly potent independent voters and centrists who can influence the outcome of elections, as 2006 proved. Running to the right in the primaries and running more to the center in the general election is not as easy to do in these days of cable news, You Tube and weblogs. Words count.
In other words, Giuliani is not a shoo in.
But he’s not a shoo-out, either..
UPDATE: Is Rudy involved in a jump the shark contest with Senator John McCain?