Based on conversations I had this morning with guests at last night’s dinner, Rudy Giuliani clearly scored big points at the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference here on Mackinac Island.
What was particulary interesting is that the former New York mayor whose social issue stands have raised hackles on the right was appealing to participants who considered themselves more conservative or backed other candidates.
"Rudy was surprisingly conservative and not apologetic," said Ann Arbor (Mich.) attorney Emily Zanotti, who consideres herself a strong conservative and puts out the political blog American Princess.org. "This was the first time I ever saw him speak. He has a solid grasp of the issues and his own philosophy." Zanotti told me now she was "leaning toward Giuliani" for the GOP nomination for president in ’08.
In remarks last night, the New Yorker summed up his philosophy of smaller government, lower taxes, and less regulation, hit hard at what he called "Islamo-Fascism," ripped into Democrats who won’t condemn Moveon.org’s attacks on General Petraeus, and invoked the names of Ronald Reagan, Lady Margaret Thatcher, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy (who, Giuliani said, he admires so much that he "has started to drink French wine again.").
Cynthia Leaman, a school principal from Ann Arbor, told me she was "leaning to Mitt Romney," but added that she "was really impressed with Rudy Giuliani." Leaman went on to say she was moved by his claim that he could "be competitive in all fifty states and defeat Hillary Clinton. That’s something to consider."
Leaman described herself as "srongly pro-life–you should have heard the arguments we had in our house" and still opposes abortion. But, Leaman added, she was no longer a "single issue Republican. I changed after 9/11. Since then, I have felt you have to be a bit broader."
As he has on other occasions, Giuliani left the Grand Hotel immediately after his speech and ducked waiting reporters from the state, national, and international media.
One surprise guest I encountered at the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference at the Grand Hotel was Ward Connerly, father of the anti-affirmative action initiative in California and vocal foe of quotas.
UC Regent and California businessman Connerly, who is African-American, was visiting local backers of an anti-affirmative measure on the Michigan ballot last fall. When I asked if any candidates had called for his endorsement, he replied : "Lots of ’em." When I asked if he was leaning to endorse anyone, Connerly said, "no."
He did volunteer, however, that Rudy Giuliani "is very strong and unequivocal" on the issue of opposing affirmative action. Connerly added that, as mayor of New York, "Rudy demonstrated his beliefs by contracting field."
But Connerly would not even say he was "leaning to" the former mayor and, as we were speaking, was greeted warmly by Fred Thompson as he arrived at the Grand Hotel.
Connerly said he was very interested in what Republican candidates had to say about quotas and affirmative action but added that "none have been as strong on a lot of issues." He also emphasized that "I’m not a one-issue man–you’re cheating future generations when you vote like that."