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Rudy All Across Florida

Giuliani, making friends in the Sunshine State. (Reuters).

By Joel Achenbach
TAMPA, 8:00 a.m. -- Rudy Giuliani's visit to the Tampa Bay area didn't make the front page of this morning's St. Pete Times. The banner headline, instead, is about the iffy effects of the popular cholesterol drug Vytorin; the lead art shows actor Wesley Snipes going to court in Ocala on tax evasion charges, where somehow the jury pool of more than 100 people included not a single African American. You have to turn to page 4B to find the Giuliani dispatch from reporter David Decamp, who does an excellent job describing the former mayor's speaking style:

"Rudy Giuliani hit the hot Republican issues like it was batting practice. Cut taxes, fight terrorism, stop illegal immigration -- whack, whack, whack."

He does have an arsenal of air-whacking gestures, and is a major finger-pointer and fist-maker. He's comfortable on the stump, with confidence to burn. He avoids lofty rhetoric. Not a preacher, this one. He appeals to economic conservatives, people worried about terrorism, and former New Yorkers, of which there seem to be plenty around here. The Giuliani pitch: He gets things done. He's another fixer, like Mitt Romney without the fastidiousness.

But you have to wonder if he can fix his own campaign. His once-strong lead in the polls here has evaporated. Candidates thrive when enthusiasm builds on itself. You want to time your jump, like when trying to spike a volleyball. Giuliani is trying to counter his recent troubles by engaging in some old-fashioned, Iowa-style retail politicking, complete with stops in small venues such as diners and restaurants. But the problem is scale. Giuliani had an appreciative crowd of about 150 last night in Clearwater, but if he retails himself at that rate he'll need 10 years to make his case.

Giuliani is taking Florida's measure this week in a bus trip that started in Miami. After rolling up the southwest coast yesterday, he'll slice across the middle of the state this morning, speaking near Disney World, then in New Smyrna Beach on the Atlantic, then up in the northeast corner in Jacksonville and even farther north in the town of Yulee (an old Indian word meaning "Georgia"). Tomorrow he'll roll across the panhandle, into the Central Time Zone, to Pensacola, which is most of the way to New Orleans and a long, long way from Coconut Grove.

Florida's geography will be on the minds of the general election candidates in the fall. To win the presidency you probably have to win Florida and Ohio and a couple of other such swing states. The St. Pete Times had a front-page story Monday outlining the recipe for a Democrat winning Florida: "Win big in southeast Florida, stay competitive along the I-4 corridor loaded with swing voters, and avoid being crushed in conservative North Florida."

Giuliani will be heading into territory not entirely friendly to a candidate who is moderate on social issues. He faced a tough question last night in Clearwater (in a meeting room at a Tex-Mex restaurant) from a Fred Thompson supporter named Bill Bunting. Bunting said there are 476,000 concealed-weapon permits in Florida. He asked Giuliani -- who has favored gun control in the past -- if he would sign a national right-to-carry bill if one were sent to him from Congress. A pointed question -- and pointed right between the candidate's eyes.

"I'd like to see it done on a state-by-state basis," Giuliani answered. He said states and even communities should be allowed to set their gun laws, and "if any community goes too far" - he cited the District of Columbia -- the Second Amendment would kick in.

One hot-button issue seems to be largely missing in this campaign.

"Believe it or not, they're not talking about abortion," said Jason D. Montes, 38, a lawyer and Giuliani volunteer from Tampa.

Lisa Spriggs, a self-described evangelical Christian, said she likes Giuliani "even though he doesn't have a lot of conservative Christian thoughts on abortion.... We're looking at the issues other than that."

One of the biggest issues: disaster insurance. The cost of insurance in hurricane-blown Florida has become almost prohibitive. On that issue, Giuliani's faith in private-market solutions to major problems (in health care, for example) takes a Florida-centric U-turn.

"We all need help, we all need a backup, we all need assistance," the former mayor says. "We can't get through these things alone. I am in favor of a federal backstop. I am in favor of the federal government helping."

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 15, 2008; 10:31 AM ET
Categories:  Joel's Florida Diary , Rudy Giuliani  
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