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Giuliani, Romney and the Tax Fight

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani sought today to cast his spat with former Gov. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney over taxes and spending as less a difference of policy proposals than of experience versus theory.

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani addresses the Americans for Prosperity Foundation in Washington on Friday. (AP Photo)

And, of course, he meant his experience and his opponent's theory.

"I actually think that most of the Republican candidates for president....are probably within all but about five or ten percent of each other in terms of the differences on the economy," Giuliani said during a one-on-one interview with The Fix earlier today. "When I talk to people about economic conservatism or fiscal restraint I can go back to a record of results, not just rhetoric," he added. "That's the difference."

(Although asked specifically about his differences with Romney on economic policy, Giuliani pointedly did not mention the former governor by name -- furthering a practice whereby Hizzoner spends the vast majority of his time attacking Democrats rather than naming names among his Republican rivals.)

Giuliani's comments came even as what once looked like an exchange of jabs between the campaigns was turning into an all-out slugfest.

Romney, as he has done again and again in this campaign, took to the airwaves to make his point with a radio ad in New Hampshire that points out that he alone among the "major" (his words, not ours) candidates has signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to never raise taxes as president.

"I signed the Tax Pledge because I want everyone to know where I stand," Romney says in the ad. "We got to get taxes down and grow our economy." Giuliani has not signed the Tax Pledge, saying that the only oath he will take as president is to uphold the Constitution.

That's not to say he plans to cede any ground to Romney as the most fiscally conservative candidate in the field. Time and again during our interview today, Giuliani sought to draw a contrast between what he had done in terms of economic policy as mayor and what his (unnamed) opponents have only talked about.

Noting the 23 tax cuts he signed into law despite having to deal with a city council controlled by Democrats, Giuliani remarked: "I was possibly the first mayor who ever did that and I had to change the minds of not just the political culture but the intellectual and elite culture in New York that sees a tax reduction as immoral."

Giuliani went on to argue that his direct experience with taxes and spending have given him a real-world perspective that his opponents don't enjoy when it comes to finding ways to improve economic policy. "You can't lower every tax," said Giuliani. "You have to know which ones to lower. You have to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em."

Romney's campaign has already set about disputing Giuliani's claims of sound fiscal management when he served as mayor of New York. They are circulating a research document today entitled "Rudy Left the New York City Budget a Mess" with this quote from spokesman Kevin Madden: "He may try to talk like Romney when it comes to cutting spending, but unfortunately the mayor still budgets and taxes like Rudy."

The escalation in rhetoric (and research documents) shows that both sides believe they can -- and need to -- win the fight for the badge of "fiscal conservative" in the race. That the scrum is primarily going on in New Hampshire shouldn't be surprising to any student of politics; New Hampshire residents -- and Republicans in particular -- have long seen taxes as anathema.

And, while Romney's numbers remain quite strong in Iowa, Giuliani's campaign senses vulnerability in New Hampshire and may see the Granite State as the best place to stop the Mitt-mentum (I am going to patent that phrase) once and for all.

For the rest of our interview with Giuliani -- including his picks for the Democrats' presidential and vice presidential nominees -- make sure to check out the Sunday Fix in The Washington Post.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 5, 2007; 2:51 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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