Four days after the first Republican presidential debate and amid media buzz of Rudy Giuliani’s falling poll numbers, Giuliani’s campaign manager and communications director held a conference call for political bloggers on the state of the GOP presidential race. They took the opportunity to respond to concerns raised in traditional and new media about Giuliani’s shrinking lead in the polls, his pro-choice stance, his debate performance and his view of social conservatives. They also tried to drive home a simple message: voters should look at Giuliani’s overall record and his electability in the general election.
Throughout the call the Giuliani team stressed their candidate’s record as Mayor and his conservative record on taxes, spending, crime and even reducing abortions. They argue that voters are fully aware of his liberal social views but may not be aware of his successes in cleaning up New York.
In response to my question as to whether the stampede by states to early primary dates poses any concern, DuHaime noted that it did place a premium on fundraising and “resource allocation.” However, in response to a later question he also indicated that the campaign is pleased with the appearance of Florida, New Jersey, New York and California — states where the Mayor is running strongly ahead — to the list of early primary states.
As for the polls, campaign manager Michael DuHaime professed no concern about the narrowing of certain national polls and said that the race has “settled into a place we expected.” He indicated the campaign was pleased with Giuliani’s average 10 percentage point lead in national polls and his “close” standing in early primary states.
After the blogger call a CNN/Opinion Research poll was announced showing Giuliani leading 25-23% over Sen. McCain. The campaign responded to my inquiry as to whether this changed their view of the polls. They answered that this particular poll showed virtually no change from last month which had Giuliani ahead 27-24%. (Fred Thompson was down a statistically insignificant 3% and Gov. Romney showed no change from the last poll.) They also point to polling showing Giuliani is viewed as the best leader of any candidate, Democrat or Republican.
Giuliani’s team was asked on the blogger call about Giuliani’s pro-choice views and his response in the debate last week that it would be “okay” if Roe v. Wade was reversed. DuHaime and Communications Director Katie Levinson laid out their approach: 1) Giuliani is a “straight shooter” and “his positions are his positions” — perhaps a veiled shot at Romney, who has been dealing with the “flip flop” label; 2) Giuliani offers some common ground with pro-life voters on parental notification and partial birth abortion but remains pro-choice; and 3) Giuliani is banking that the primary will be decided by people evaluating a candidate as “a whole” and recognizes that there are some “single issue voters who won’t vote for him” on this issue.
DuHaime answered a question on Giuliani’s debate performance with a mild endorsement that he “did very well,” seeming to acknowledge the difficulty in getting adequate time for his candidate to shine when 10 candidates clutter the stage.
Questioned about Giuliani’s view of social conservatives and whether the GOP was a “pro-life” party, DuHaime invoked both Ronald Reagan (“someone who agrees with me 80% of the time is not my enemy”) and Sen. Sam Brownback who recently remarked that Giuliani’s pro-choice views were not a disqualifying factor.
Rather than sing the praises of social conservatives, DuHaime turned the question into a platform to argue the “Big Tent” view of the GOP. He cautioned that Republicans should not exclude any group from the party since they are outnumbered nationally by Democrats. DuHaime also used the opportunity to make a pitch, not heard as clearly or strenuously before, that Giuliani is the most electable of the Republican candidates. He listed numerous states including Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin which he claimed Giuliani would win in November 2008 and others such as New York where his candidacy would force Democrats to spend money, depleting their resources elsewhere.
Finally when asked about the prospect of Fred Thompson’s campaign, DuHaime gamely welcomed him to the race, suggesting he would make it into the “first tier” of candidates and “take [votes] from all candidates.”
So team Giuliani gives every indication they are settling in for the long fight and gearing up for more debates, more fundraising and one more contender. Indeed, we still have eight months before the first caucus and primary votes are cast, a lifetime in politics.