Saturday, January 26, 2008

MAUREEN DOWD: It’s Not Giuliani Time in Florida



I expected more of Rudy.

Not a better message. It figured that he would snowbird his strategy, taking his New York subtext of blacks-want-to-mug-you-and-I-can-protect-you down to Florida and switching it to Arabs-want-to-kill-you-and-I-can-save-you.

And I wasn’t surprised that he continued to run on fear and divisiveness, zeroing in on Florida the way he used to target Staten Island, Bay Ridge, Queens and parts of Manhattan where the elderly lived. Hizzoner always focused on those who supported him and ignored those who didn’t.

I simply expected that Rudy would rise to greater heights as he fell behind, that he would self-immolate in a dramatic way befitting a man who loves opera and the “Godfather” movies. I longed for the Manhattan diva to reprise Maria Callas doing one of her famous Donizetti mad scenes that he loved so much.

Watching him in colorful Miami in his funereal dark suit, I wondered, where’s the red meat? I missed his showman’s appreciation for pouncing on the news of the day and grabbing headlines with some outrageous, provocative aria. Surely, The New York Times’s McCain endorsement — harshly branding America’s Mayor “a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man” who spurred racial polarization and exploited 9/11 for his business and political purposes — gave Rudy the lyrics for an operatic rant against The Times that could have replaced his milquetoast stump speech and delighted conservative audiences.

And how could he pass up the chance to mock his old nemesis Hillary, the feminist icon who is totally dependent on her husband to do the heavy lifting?

It was Mitt Romney who scored the best Hillary line at the Boca debate. When Tim Russert asked him, “How would you run against Hillary and Bill Clinton in November,” Mitt replied: “I frankly can’t wait, because the idea of Bill Clinton back in the White House with nothing to do is something I just can’t imagine. I can’t imagine the American people can imagine.”

The audience laughed and Russert tried to pin down Mitt to see if he was implying any East Wing shenanigans. It does conjure up a disquieting image of Hillary in the Oval and Bill rambling around next door in the study right near that pantry. Romney has slyly used the word “intern” at least twice talking about Hillary, saying he had more business experience than she did and the White House was “not a place for a president to be an intern.” But slick Mitt slid away from Russert, replying, “I just think that we want to have a president, not a whole — a team of husband and wife thinking that they’re going to run the country.”

Previewing a Republican race in the fall, he went on: “She is Washington to the core. She’s been there too long. Bill Clinton’s been there too long. The last thing America needs is sending the Clintons back to Washington.” Then he stole an Obama line, to go along with the Obama change mantra he snitched and put on posters, adding, “Look, sending the same people back to Washington expecting a different result is not going to get America on track.”

Facing possible catastrophe last week, Rudy stolidly stuck with peddling a plan for a national catastrophe fund that would make property owners’ insurance more affordable to Floridians whose rates have been driven up by hurricanes. (Doesn’t the man who attacks Hillary for socialized medicine worry that this is socialized homeowners’ insurance?)

His deep investment in one state and a one-dimensional message do not seem to have paid dividends. He needs to quit talking about 9/11 and dial 911. His numbers have dropped by half in the year he has campaigned here. The more he has wooed, the less he has won. His campaign may have always been doomed, given that he was unacceptable to so many other Republicans. But the final act seems sad — sputtering, stalling and dying like a bad engine on an old car.

Could it be over before the fat lady sings? If early-bird voters don’t save him and he comes in third here, will he get out of the race so he doesn’t suffer the indignity of losing New York, a scene so melodramatically implausible that even Verdi wouldn’t try to pull it off?

One top Democrat, shocked that Rudy had run a race so minimalist that it would make a front-porch campaign look expansive, wondered if it was really some ploy to pump up his business. And perhaps his low-energy windup was meant to maintain dignity for Giuliani Partners.

At a Rudy rally in Boca on Thursday, there were snowbirds and transplanted New Yorkers. Some, naturally, loved Rudy and some, naturally, loathed him.

Ed Wenger, 65, a retired aerospace executive who used to live in Long Island, hailed the former mayor as “fantastic.” “He turned Times Square from a hooker’s paradise to Disneyland,” he said.

Nearby, Norman Korowitz, 66, a snowbird, retired guidance counselor and Billary fan from Suffolk County, called Rudy “an optical illusion.”

“He’s Bernie Kerik’s partner,” he said. “And family values? He makes Bill Clinton look like a young upstart.”

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