An Intense Florida Focus for Giuliani
By Joel Achenbach
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., 3:50 p.m. -- A couple of hundred people have gathered at the veterans' memorial wall next to the football stadium. A large American flag hangs from a firetruck's cherry picker, flirting with the horizontal as it flaps in a chilly zephyr. Rock music blares from a sound system as a color guard stands at attention. There's an eternal flame front and center. The Giuliani buses should be here any minute, having adhered perfectly to the schedule after yesterday's logistical problems.
Giuliani has covered a lot of territory today, from the orange groves in the central spine of the state to the scrub of Northeast Florida. He's had an excellent tour of all the palmettos and pine trees along I-4 and I-95. Plus the occasional live oak, heavily colonized by Spanish moss.
This morning he stopped at Disney World, eschewing the obvious photo-op at the Magic Kingdom's Hall of Presidents to instead visit the Coronado resort (the nice fellow who gave me a lift in a golf cart said it has 190,000 square feet of convention space, meaning it's almost as large as John Edwards's house!) to pick up the endorsement of the National Troopers Coalition.
"He's the only candidate who's been crisis-tested," said the group's president, Dennis Hallion.
He also visited low-key New Smyrna Beach, where organizers had hoped for a hundred people but got several times that, including Bill Clark, 72, a retired fireman who, when asked why he liked Giuliani, responded with a line the campaign might want to adopt: "When 9/11 happened, he proved you don't have to be 10 feet high to be a giant."
Giuliani also gave an interview to Reuters touting his advocacy of tax cuts, including cuts to the corporate tax rate, which he believes is hurting the U.S. in the global economy. Now he'll make his pitch to Jacksonville, which this reporter (who grew up about one long spit of a watermelon seed from here) distinctly recalls as a backwater in the 1970s. It's now a much spiffier place, with bank towers, riverfront bistros and a pro football team that did pretty well until it collided with the Patriots a few days ago.
"It was the Bold New City of the South, then The River City. It is now The Place Where Florida Begins," says Richard Clark, 37, a city councilman who runs a janitorial business. He says it's also a place where Giuliani's pitch will play well. The city has a booming port (Giuliani advocates engaging the global economy), low unemployment, but a high crime rate. Clark says the murder rate is the highest per capita of any city in Florida. "We need to find a way to stop it -- and he did that."
In New York City, he means. The New York Turnaround is a staple of any Giuliani conversation at one of his events. In fact his supporters tend to mention the city's fortunes even more often than they talk about Giuliani's handling of 9/11.
Jeff Bigman, 49, an attorney in Daytona, cites the NY Turnaround in explaining his Giuliani preference, and adds, "I think McCain has switched on a lot of issues, and is too old for the presidency. Romney seems -- I hate to use the word -- plastic to me."
Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella says the former mayor has 6,000 volunteers in Florida and will campaign here virtually nonstop until Jan. 29.
Web Politics Editor
January 15, 2008; 5:35 PM ET
Categories: Joel's Florida Diary
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