Bad Press? Giuliani Gets It Good

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 7, 2008

SOMERSWORTH, N.H. -- After months of stories about his questionable clients, his crooked former top cop, his onetime mistress and his slide in the polls, Rudy Giuliani was hit by yet another negative headline here last week.

"Italian-Americans Rip Rudy as an UNCLE TOMASO," blared the Boston Herald's cover, citing a single activist who doesn't like the way Giuliani jokes about mobsters.

The former New York mayor assumes that bad press comes with the presidential campaign territory. "I never see myself as a victim," he says in an interview. "I don't like seeing myself that way. . . . There've been negative stories about everyone. Maybe it's more a function of being a front-runner."

At a policy level, though, Giuliani is convinced that he and his GOP brethren don't get a fair shake. "I think there is a liberal bias in the media toward Democratic approaches and Democratic candidates," he says. "Republicans have to go against the grain when we're talking about Republican or conservative solutions. . . . I've encountered that from the very beginning."

Giuliani has his share of self-inflicted wounds, and the less than sympathetic coverage is amplified by a campaign style in which the onetime prosecutor gives little ground and doesn't hesitate to throw punches. He generates few warm-and-fuzzy stories because of his no-nonsense demeanor on the trail, a largely humorless approach in which he talks terrorism and taxes but not about himself.

Giuliani shakes few hands after speaking, often departing within one minute. Last Wednesday, after a speech at a World War II museum in Wolfeboro about his call to expand the military, he slipped away to do interviews with conservative radio hosts Bill O'Reilly and Dennis Prager and with Fox News.

Addressing 40 people at a Somersworth restaurant featuring a $7.49 lunch buffet that includes whoopie pie, Giuliani answered questions from two disabled people -- who asked how he would help people like them -- with bloodless policy talk. Giuliani did not inquire about their conditions or express any sympathy. He did, however, take a stand on a pamphlet containing his 12 commitments, saying: "It's like a contract. If I don't do it, you can sue me."

While other candidates appear softened by the presence of family members, the Boston Globe ran a piece last week noting that Giuliani's third wife, Judith, has largely been absent from campaigning.

And then there is his temerity in arguing that he can win the nomination without strong showings in Iowa (where he finished sixth, with 3 percent of the vote) and tomorrow in New Hampshire -- a strategy that runs smack into the media's conventional wisdom. "Most national political reporters write off or disparage his chances of winning," Time's Mark Halperin reported last week.

As if to underscore his unorthodox approach, Giuliani campaigned here the day before the Iowa caucuses, which he essentially blew off, and then jetted off for a campaign swing through Florida.

In a news conference at the restaurant, one reporter cited a poll that gives John McCain the lead among Republican voters nationwide, saying: "You've always led in the national polls. How do you explain that?" Giuliani said he was not good at explaining polls.

Another reporter, noting that nearly all his rivals were in Iowa, said: "Are you worried about how the media spotlight on those candidates is affecting you here?"

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