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Rudy's Gamble Defies History

By Peter Brown

Every four years some presidential candidate, but never the front-runner, tries to find a way around the early, smaller state primaries and caucuses. That decision is almost always a sign of a candidate's efforts to mitigate a potentially fatal flaw.

That is what former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is doing with his reported decision to de-emphasize the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries in his quest for the GOP nomination.

Make no mistake about it, this is a big deal.

The Giuliani campaign says this strategy is just the necessary result of its decision to end his evasion about his support for abortion rights, arguing that his candor will be more appealing in the larger, more cosmopolitan states.

Although some in the hinterlands might see this as snobbery, it is less a risk for Giuliani's campaign than the mentality it reflects about where the votes are needed to win the Republican presidential nomination.

In the last 40 years, no president has dissed both Iowa and New Hampshire. It is the political equivalent of ignoring Mother Nature. But then, none who have taken that tack have been front-runners.

Everyone who knows Giuliani, the clear leader in polls of Republicans, says he is self-confident or arrogant -- which one depends on whether you like him or not.

His decision to minimize investment in states where there are party activists who disdain his Democratic-like positions on social issues is a testament to Giuliani's chutzpa.

Giuliani is reported by the New York Times to have decided to de-emphasize the early contests and concentrate on the mega states -- California, New York, New Jersey, etc. that are currently scheduled to be among the 20 or so to pick their delegates a week or two after the early contests.

Of course, one might expect that the Giuliani camp will play down the decision and, in fact, it will probably be months before we see if that is actually the case.

But no matter what actually happens, even Giuliani's thinking he can become the Republican nominee by getting enough delegates in the states the GOP often doesn't carry in November says a great deal about his campaign's mindset.

It has been more than a half-century (New York Gov. Thomas Dewey in 1948) since the Northeast has seen one of its own nominated by the GOP, and that is no accident. Over that period, the Sun Belt and Rocky Mountain West have become the Republican heartland.

The mentality in the Giuliani campaign, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, may be that if they can make it in the Big Apple they can make it anywhere. Actually, they should worry about making it in places like the Little Apple -- Manhattan, Kansas. Folks there are much more likely to be representative of the voters who pick the GOP nominee.

There are, of course, lots of Republicans in the Northeastern mega states and California, and they could supply lots of delegates for Giuliani.

But there are even more in the South, Southwest, Rocky Mountains and populous Republican suburbs of the Midwest. The predominant views and values there might be more in line with those of activists in places like South Carolinas, Iowa and New Hampshire.

Abortion-rights foes are a key part of the coalition of social conservatives, along with opponents of gun control and gay rights (both of which Giuliani supports) who carry great sway in GOP nomination contests, especially outside the Northeast.

Now, as they say in cliché land, in politics you play the cards you are dealt. Translated into English, that means that with his history of supporting abortion rights, Giuliani has opted for a road not before taken by a GOP front-runner.

It would not be unusual for an also-ran candidate in Giuliani's situation on social issues to take this course. What is surprising is that he is solidly in front of the GOP field -- 10 points ahead of his nearest competitor virtually everywhere -- and did so.

If elected, Giuliani would be the first with only local government political experience to win the White House. Thumbing his nose at the Iowas and New Hampshires would make him even more novel.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at peter.brown@quinnipiac.edu

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