By Michael Leahy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2008
CAPE CANAVERAL -- Wayne Pennington thought it would be a privilege to help out the other day when Rudolph W. Giuliani visited the hotel where he works as an auditor. With darkness falling, Pennington watched the flashing lights of the motorcade as he waited outside for the former New York mayor, the Republican Party's leading presidential candidate for much of last year, to emerge from the hotel.
A GOP voter trying to decide on a candidate before the Florida primary, Pennington knows Giuliani best as a leader made famous in the crucible of Sept. 11, 2001. "I'm open-minded," he said. "I'll take a look at every good Republican."
Doors suddenly opened and, amid a phalanx of guards, Giuliani came bounding toward his car. His path took him straight toward the group of hotel workers, where Pennington waited expectantly. He had his hand ready, but the candidate shook it so quickly that it was more like a half-tug as he wordlessly climbed into the back seat of a car.
"It won't be Giuliani," Pennington said later when asked about his choice for the primary. He said he hadn't been offended by the rote handshake. But the fleeting encounter did nothing to attract him, either. "No talk, really. Nothing happened, no. But I don't think he was going to get my vote anyway. He's just running on 9/11, I think. Still haven't made up my mind. . . . Maybe Huckabee. I kind of like him. He's out there around people. Seems honest, friendly."
Presidential primaries are fought in two dimensions -- across the vast reach of television, and in that intimate space as small as a man's hand, or as tight as a burly hug. Opportunities for votes are seized, or squandered. For Giuliani, they have mainly been squandered. The former front-runner finds himself fighting for what most observers in Florida view as his survival.
Giuliani effectively sat out the early primaries to concentrate on Florida, and he says he will win the state's primary on Tuesday. Last weekend, he vowed more than once that the victor here will get the Republican nomination, which, in terms of logic, suggests that at least one loser in Florida will be finished. Twenty-four hours after Giuliani's guarantee, in the wake of polls showing him trailing a surging John McCain and Mitt Romney, his aides said that merely a strong showing would enable him to fight on.
While it's too early to write Giuliani's campaign obituary, it's not hard to see his weaknesses as a candidate. He seems constitutionally resistant to lengthy sessions of flesh-pressing and to uncontrolled campaign dialogue. He favors long, discursive speeches and generally limits questions to a handful, when he takes questions at all. Contact is across a rope line, generally -- except when he must walk across a room to an exit, where bodyguards keep the curious at bay with deftly placed forearms, if necessary.
In New Hampshire, where Giuliani led in the polls early and then collapsed by December, one of the former mayor's appearances ended when aides asked attendees to remain in their seats so he could quickly leave the building and get to his next stop.
"I couldn't figure out what he was doing," said Andrew Smith, director of the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire, who was there. "Was there some kind of security consideration? Did he fear that some old Rotarian lady had a butter knife? That kind of thing really hurt him here."
But nothing about Giuliani's campaign style has changed much since his slide became precipitous. He still wears his dark power suits and ties, resisting crew-neck sweaters, windbreakers and fleece. He rides to most campaign stops in his motorcade, led by a black Cadillac Escalade with flashing red lights and, in Florida, trailed by a law enforcement vehicle -- the candidate nestled in a car between many others -- his security people jumping out at stops and pirouetting.
McCain's early support of the troop increase in Iraq under Gen. David H. Petraeus, and a concomitant decline in levels of insurgent attacks there, have for the moment at least taken the war off the table as a hotly discussed topic in the Republican race, blunting any effort by the Giuliani camp to use national security as a winning issue.
David Dreier, a Republican congressman from California and a Giuliani supporter, observed wryly: "I heard somebody say that Rudy's worst enemy might be David Petraeus. Might be true. . . . McCain has done pretty well with that."
Giuliani is now playing what might be his last card: a personal and corporate tax-reduction package offered amid fears of a possible recession, and accompanied by a reminder that he supported the administration's tax cuts during President Bush's first term while McCain didn't.
There is no certainty that great numbers of voters will hear it. At as many stops as not in Florida, the crowds, once in the thousands, have been relatively small. After his motorcade left the Cape Canaveral hotel, it cruised to Titusville for a rally with about 200 supporters who filled half a room at the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum.
Christine Schado, 46, an undecided voter from the town of Rockledge, was waiting with her husband, Michael. "They told me to come early if I wanted a good seat," Schado said. "But there aren't many people here."
Taking his place in front of a banner that said "FLORIDA IS RUDY COUNTRY," Giuliani talked about his tax plan and pledged to support NASA and the Florida space industry in their commitment to get to Mars. He asked the crowd to join him in dreaming big, "so our children can look up to the sky and say the sky is the limit."
He waved and walked off the stage. There was no question-and-answer session. "Well, I don't know, there was nothing about health care," Schado said, still mulling over what she had seen and heard -- and not heard. "And I don't think anything was said about immigration. Nothing about abortion. I was kind of surprised he didn't take questions."
She was still trying to put her finger on what she hadn't liked most about the evening. "There was just no energy, you know?" she said later. "No positive energy in the room. I was disappointed. I thought it would be bigger. It was kind of a waste of time. But the good thing is I really want to see McCain now. I like his military background and foreign policy experience in Congress."
The next night found Giuliani at the Villages, a retirement community of about 70,000, located 55 miles northwest of Orlando. His advance team had booked Giuliani's speech in the Scarlett O'Hara Room of the Villages' Savannah Center, which can hold more than 2,000 spectators. But the crowd was no more than a quarter that size in a place where a poll last February showed Giuliani to be the favorite candidate of Republicans living there. A recent survey showed him running about 2 to 1 behind Romney.
Loyal Giuliani supporters Lou and Mary Guiliano, formerly of Long Island, were in attendance, wearing the garb of their favorite baseball team and Giuliani's: the New York Yankees. "We think Rudy would be a great president," Mary said. "He's very direct, just like us. He attacks everything, every problem -- that's the way New Yorkers do it. But I think there's a little bias here and everywhere against New Yorkers."
Near the Guilianos stood retiree Donna Wood, 65, who said she opposes abortion and has concerns about Giuliani's support for abortion rights, as well as his three marriages. She is leaning toward Romney and Mike Huckabee, but she is undecided and wants to listen to Giuliani's speech, because "you hear about all the things he did on 9/11." She added: "I'm curious. I don't know where my vote is going."
It is much the way that transplanted Illinois couple Vel and Jack Huebner feel. "Lot of undecided people here," said Vel, 80. "He has a chance, though personally I don't know what I'll do. I think he has to get his act together with all these marriages."
Before being introduced, Giuliani received lavish praise from a trio of supporters -- former FBI director Louis Freeh, who notes Giuliani's prosecution of mob figures during his days as a U.S. attorney; Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum; and actor Jon Voight, who grew up in New York.
Voight was especially laudatory, saying that Giuliani resurrected the city. Giuliani's wife, Judith, looked up at the 69-year-old Voight and smiled appreciatively. When Giuliani took the microphone at last, he praised his wife as "a great partner," delivered his stump speech and answered three questions.
In response to a query about whether he would be afraid of getting killed politically if he tried to greatly cut taxes, he grinned and boomed: "They'll kill me? The Mafia never killed me. You think I'm scared of them?"
His famous pugnacity often played well at New York news conferences and subway stops. But, at the Villages, it left some spectators baffled. Jack Huebner smiled and rolled his eyes. "Sometimes he talks tough, but it doesn't really sound presidential," he said.
But some of the candidate's friends lament that there hasn't been enough of the feisty and freewheeling Giuliani during the race. A former adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still has dealings with the campaign, wistfully recalled the time that Giuliani took a sleepless 90-hour bus tour through New York's five boroughs during his 1997 mayoral reelection campaign. "He talked to people, took hard questions, didn't mind controversy, and said what was on his mind," the old friend said. "He was kind of magic when he just let it go; he connected. He didn't do that kind of thing a lot, but when he did, it paid off. He's been so careful in this campaign."
Giuliani was wrapping up in the Villages: "Here's what I want you to do for me. Let's show them that Florida is Rudy Country."
The candidate worked a rope line for about 15 minutes, but he did not cross over into a crowd that, while thinning, still included about 150 supporters and undecided voters. Instead, he returned to the stage, sat down in a chair and, being that this was the night of the South Carolina primary, gave a series of television interviews.
An easygoing Voight walked off the stage and chatted with the crowd for the next half an hour. "I made some quite lovely films down here in Florida that I really enjoyed doing," he said. "Always have loved Florida." Women reached out to hug Voight. Men stuck out their hands to be shaken. A Giuliani aide confirmed that the former mayor's mingling was finished. Supporters who didn't have tickets for a fundraising dinner that followed had had their last look. After talking with reporters for a few minutes, Giuliani was off. "Where is Jon Voight?" Judith Giuliani asked him as he started exiting toward the stage.
"He'll be coming," he said sideways.
"We've lost Jon Voight," she said.
But Voight wasn't lost. He was on the floor of the Scarlett O'Hara Room, still regaling the crowd -- shaking hands, trading stories. By then, Giuliani had found solitude in a side room, where he prepared for his dinner speech and then the motorcade into the night.