Presidential Campaigning with the Top Down
By Joel Achenbach
FORT MYERS, Fla., 1:45 p.m. -- Sixty-eight degrees, a dry breeze from the Gulf, nothing but sunshine, the palm trees waving like old friends. We're not in the Frozen North anymore, the camera guys are in shorts and tees, and the golf carts putter down the fairway at Fred Thompson speed. Now we know why Rudy's been campaigning here! Such a very pleasant place to talk about terrorism and 9/11 and what a dump New York used to be. This is presidential campaigning with the top down. Poolside conference calls! Stay in a hotel suite the size of a par 3. When you're not stumping you can work on the short game. Polls may be grim for Rudy today, but his putter's on fire!
The room at the Shell Point retirement community is full, with some retirees outside saying they've been turned away. A quick sampling of opinion finds this to be friendly territory for Giuliani -- a lot of retired New Yorkers are around here, and they applaud Giuliani for turning the city around. And this is conservative territory.
"Solid Republican," says Hugh Barbour, a retired book publisher who lives here at Shell Point.
"We have some Democrats that filtered in from the East Coast. My community's 90 percent Republican," says Paul Kascsak, a businessman who lives in a nearby neighborhood called The Landings. Giuliani will take Florida, he predicts. "I think the media is disgraceful, the way they say he's finished, he's done."
Giuliani takes the stage and is animated and relaxed. Tanned, one might note in a just-the-facts spirit. He works the stage with a wireless mike, wearing a dark suit, shirt with starched collar, red tie, flag pin in the lapel. His message: Stay on offense against terrorists, cut taxes, grow the economy. Keep America secure. He mentions not only terrorists, but catastrophes and disasters more generically.
He tweaks Democrats for wanting, he says, to raise taxes 20 to 30 percent (he doesn't say where he gets that figure).
"I would reduce your taxes and I would reduce your taxes as much as I could possibly get away with strategically. As much as I could get Congress to do," he says. The Democrats, he says, want to raise taxes on capital gains and dividends, and claim that such increases will only affect rich people.
"Like 'Heck, it's rich people!' That will affect your retirement accounts big time," he says. "Gosh, they really don't understand how a private economy works. I do."
The most animated moment comes when someone in the audience accuses Giuliani of supporting the idea that the West and Islam are engaged in a "clash of civilizations." Giuliani rejects the assertion:
"This is not -- and it is not a clash of civilizations -- I've never said it was a clash of civilizations. I don't consider the Islamic terrorists to be representing a civilization. I consider the Islamic terrorists to be representing a distortion of a religion."
Web Politics Editor
January 14, 2008; 2:40 PM ET
Categories: Joel's Florida Diary , Rudy Giuliani
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