A Mild Appetite For Giuliani

By Michael D. Shear
Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Brenda McLaughlin is a long way from making up her mind about a presidential candidate. But as she sampled the lunch fare at Manchester's Red Arrow Diner on Monday afternoon, her eyes lit up at the mention of Rudy Giuliani's name.

"I know this may sound crazy, but he has that Clinton effect to me -- when I see him on TV, he sort of seems like he's talking directly to me," said the 37-year-old owner of a housecleaning business in Washington, N.H.

On a day when the former New York mayor was pressing the flesh in towns across northern New Hampshire, we returned to the Red Arrow to ask about Giuliani and gauge his support in this critical first-primary state.

The result: a decidedly mixed bag for the White House hopeful. Even McLaughlin, a Republican abortion rights advocate who describes Giuliani as "an average Joe," says she's not sure yet whom she'll vote for. She just knows that "I'm not into the big government. I'm not into that at all."

And among some of the diner's patrons, Giuliani's name produced a bit of a sneer. Kevin Myers, 52, says he does not think that a former large-city mayor would represent his small-town priorities.

"When I think of Giuliani, the first thing that comes to my mind is big business, corporate America, big city. That's not something that I'm interested in," said Myers, who once lived in "Jersey" but now is a financial representative in Deerfield, N.H. "Sometimes wealthy individuals don't get it. It would just be status quo. That's what I think. . . . It would be four years of status quo."

And yet Myers, who proudly calls himself an independent, said Giuliani "stood up" on Sept. 11, 2001. And he said that none of the gossip about the former mayor's private life bothers him a bit.

It doesn't bother Jim Cloutier, either. But Cloutier says he thinks it will bother enough people to deny Giuliani the Republican nomination. It's for that reason that the electrical engineer from Merrimack has largely written him off.

"Don't think he has a chance," Cloutier said as his 12-year-old daughter dug into a stack of pancakes and interrupted to offer her seventh-grade observations about Giuliani. "I think he did a great job when he was in New York," the elder Cloutier said. But the fact that the candidate has been married three times is being used against him, he said, adding: "If you push that to conservatives, that is going to be a factor. It's unfortunate."

In fact, on Monday, Vanity Fair published a lengthy article about Giuliani's current wife, Judith Nathan Giuliani, that portrayed her as an opportunist and detailed the tensions her romance with Giuliani created in his family.

Giuliani dismisses such articles and hopes that Cloutier is not right about the number of people who pay attention. In a recent interview, he said that what matters is whether a president can continue to do the job even in the midst of a personal crisis.

"All of us have personal lives," Giuliani said. "Our personal lives are of great interest to everyone. But ultimately, isn't the reason they are of great interest to everyone is to see how does it affect us in the performance of our duties?"

On Tuesday in Rochester, N.H., Giuliani shared more details about his proposal to revamp the nation's health-care system by giving people more control over health-care decisions and using the power of the free market to expand access.

But at the diner, the day before the speech, Larry Petrin was a skeptic.

"Not one of them running on either side is telling us what they are going to do" about fixing the health-care system, the 60-year-old financial planner from Bedford, N.H., lamented. "Both lie. Neither party tells the truth."

So whom would he vote for?

"I would probably vote for Giuliani over everyone else," Petrin said. But he didn't sound convinced.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company