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Why Rudy Needs Hillary

Over the last few months, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has ramped up his rhetoric against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, deriding her as a radical liberal who will take the country in the wrong direction.

In an interview late last week with The Fix, Giuliani continued his assault on Clinton, describing her as "very, very liberal", decrying her universal health care proposal as "socialized medicine" and discounting the successes she had in wooing moderate and conservative voters in New York.

The truth of the matter is, however, that Giuliani needs Clinton to continue to look like the frontrunner if he wants to have the best chance of winning the Republican nomination next year.

Why?

It's no secret that Giuliani is far more moderate/liberal on social issues like abortion, gay rights and gun control than the average Republican caucus or primary voter. Giuliani has largely neutralized attacks from his rivals on these matters with a two-pronged message: you may not agree with me on everything but I am the best leader in this field and I am the only candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton.

The latter appeal to electability has become more and more a part of Giuliani's pitch to Republican voters. "We would have to view ourselves as the underdogs and we should give ourselves the best chance to win," Giuliani said in our interview late last week.

And for good reason. In a late September NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Republican voters were asked which of their candidates had the best chance of defeating Clinton in the general election. Giuliani took 47 percent as compared to 16 percent for former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.), 14 percent for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and eight percent for former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.).

That three-to-one edge for Giuliani was far broader than the 30 percent to 23 percent lead he held over Thompson in the poll's hypothetical Republican primary ballot test. McCain was third in the poll with 15 percent while Romney took 10 percent of the vote.

The NBC/WSJ numbers are backed up by the Post's own late September poll. Asked which of the Republican candidates has "the best chance of getting elected president in 2008," 50 percent chose Giuliani as compared to 15 percent for McCain, 13 percent for Thompson and six percent for Romney.

Compare those numbers to the responses when voters in the same survey were asked which candidate "best reflects the core values of the Republican Party". McCain led with 26 percent followed by Giuliani at 23 percent and Thompson at 21 percent.

In many ways, Giuliani is making a "lesser of two evils" argument to Republican voters. You may not agree with me on much, Giuliani implies, but you agree with Clinton on even less. He regularly makes note of Ronald Reagan's famous dictum that "my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy" in a not-so-subtle appeal to voters who stand on the other side of an issue (or issues).

For Republicans, the specter of another four (or eight) years of Clintons in the White House is a nightmare of epic proportions. Given that very real possibility, many Republicans -- especially social conservatives -- will be faced with a very tough choice in the coming weeks and months. Go with a candidate who reflects their true core values but would start as a serious underdog against Clinton or a vote for a candidate who is not one of their own but who polling shows has the best chance of keeping Clinton out of the Oval Office.

The stronger that Clinton looks in the Democratic primary -- and she looks pretty darn strong at the moment -- the more Giuliani's "head over heart" appeal to conservatives will resound.

The worst case scenario for Giuliani is for Clinton's front running campaign to flag between now and next spring as one of his main electoral appeals would go out the window.

So, remember when you hear Giuliani deriding Clinton and her policies that he needs her a lot more than she needs him these days.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 8, 2007; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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