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McCain-Giuliani Race Heats Up

John McCain and Rudy Giuliani are fighting for the support of New Yorkers. (Getty Images.)

By Juliet Eilperin
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rudy Giuliani began attacking each other in earnest today, just as two New York polls showed McCain has moved ahead of Giuliani in the former New York mayor's home state.

Giuliani's campaign e-mailed reporters today with a long list of instances where McCain backed higher taxes, including in 2001 when the senator opposed President Bush's tax cut plan and when he backed increasing taxes on cigarettes nearly a decade ago.

"Rudy Giuliani is the only fiscal conservative in the race and it's easy to see why," said Giuliani spokeswoman Katie Levinson in the press release. "John McCain not only voted with the Democrats against the Bush tax cuts twice, he's voted over 50 times for higher taxes. With a record like that, you can't tell if John McCain will stand up to the Democrats in Washington who want to raise taxes or stand with them."

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers shot back, suggesting in an e-mail that the former mayor was just bitter about his recent fall in the polls. Today the Siena College Research Institute released a poll showing McCain with a 12-point lead over Giuliani in New York, while a joint WNBC/Marist Poll gave McCain a 15 point edge among New Yorkers.

"It's not surprising to see the Giuliani campaign launch misleading attacks on a day when two new polls show John McCain beating Rudy Giuliani decisively in his home state of New York," Rogers said. "John McCain has a long record of fighting for tax cuts and controlling spending. In contrast, Rudy Giuliani has a record of opposing tax relief. He actually endorsed liberal Democrat Mario Cuomo for governor because he opposed George Pataki's tax cut plans, which Giuliani said at the time were too large. He also left Mayor Bloomberg with a fiscal mess, including a budget deficit of over $2 billion. That's not fiscal responsibility."

Steven Greenberg, the Siena New York Poll spokesman, said Giuliani' former domination of the state had evaporated over the past couple of months. "In a stunning turnaround, John McCain has turned a 33-point deficit with Republican voters in December into a 12-point lead over Rudy Giuliani today," Greenberg said. "While America's mayor still has strong support among New York City Republicans, he is getting beat by McCain in the suburbs and trounced upstate. Republican women give Rudy a small edge, however, Republican men are behind McCain nearly three-to-one."

The poll by WNBC and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion gives McCain an even bigger advantage. That survey reports the senator enjoys the support of 34 percent of likely GOP voters, while Giuiliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are tied at 19 percent, with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee at 15 percent. McCain enjoys his strongest support upstate, which could prove to be an advantage since those areas are more solidly Republican than elsewhere in the state.

McCain's rivals still have a chance to woo New York voters, according to the Marist survey, since only 41 percent of those polled said they strongly support their current choice, and 30 percent said they may switch candidates by Feb. 5, the day of New York's primary. "This is a contest that is still in flux," according to the Marist press release. "Many Republican voters are not particularly enthusiastic about their choice "

McCain will make his pitch to New Yorkers tomorrow, on Giuliani's home turf, no less, by holding a fundraiser and press conference in Manhattan. According to the Marist Institute, he might want to make an appeal based on strength, since three in 10 Republicans polled said they are looking for a strong leader in their presidential nominee.

No word on who's winning the backing of New Yorkers enamored with the idea of a weak leader.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 21, 2008; 3:53 PM ET
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