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Dem insiders call Giuliani toughest GOP opponent

A survey of Democratic superdelegates by the New York Times has a majority of them calling Rudy Giuliani the toughest Republican opponent in the November 2008 presidential election.

Many of the superdelegates did not offer an opinion of which candidate would be the most daunting opponent for the Democratic presidential candidate, according to the survey, which was conducted by The New York Times and CBS News. However, while a majority did not offer a candidate name, 22 percent ranked Mr. Giuliani as the toughest rival, and 11 percent said Mitt Romney would be.

For now, the Christian Right remains split. Giuliani recently picked up an endorsement from Pat Robertson, while Fred Thompson is gaining one today from the National Right to Life Committee, a key anti-abortion group. Should Hillary go on to win the Democratic nomination, count on the religious right to unite behind the GOP nominee.

For all his momentum, Giuliani isn't without certain problems. Even before the indictment last week of his crony Bernard Kerik, whose candidacy for US Homeland Security director Giuliani supported, the Times took a close look at how the Republican's loyalty blinded him to Kerik's various lapses.

The men who would become patron and protégé first met at a fund-raiser in 1990 in New Jersey honoring a slain New York City police officer.  . . .

When Mr. Giuliani became mayor, he gave Mr. Kerik a job in the Correction Department. A year later, the mayor asked him to drop by Gracie Mansion.

The two men sat upstairs and shared a bottle of red wine, a gift to the mayor from Nelson Mandela. Mr. Giuliani said he planned to appoint Mr. Kerik as first deputy correction commissioner.

Mr. Kerik, who wrote of this in his autobiography, “The Lost Son,” was taken aback; he was a year removed from being a police detective.

“Mayor, I appreciate your confidence in me, I really do,” he said. “But I ran a jail. One jail. Rikers is like 10 jails.”

Just do it, the mayor replied.

Mr. Kerik followed Mr. Giuliani downstairs to a dimly lighted room. There waited Mr. Giuliani’s boyhood chum Peter J. Powers, who was first deputy mayor, and other aides. One by one, they pulled Mr. Kerik close and kissed his cheek.

“I wonder if he noticed how much becoming part of his team resembled becoming part of a mafia family,” Mr. Kerik wrote. “I was being made.”

Peter J. Boyer, who profiled Giuliani, and his surprising appeal in the heartland, for the New Yorker in August, also offered a critical look at the would-be president. The whole story is well worth the read, but here are a few choice excerpts.

A bit of reactionary appeal in the South:

The common refrain among New Yorkers is that although Giuliani showed leadership on the day of the terrorist attacks, in the preceding months he had been a spent and isolated lame duck, his viability sapped by churlishness and the spectacle of his unattractive personal dramas. But to many in the heartland Giuliani was heroic for what he did in New York before September 11th: his policy prescriptions and, mostly, his taming of the city’s liberal political culture—his famous crackdown on squeegee-men panhandlers, his workfare program, his attacks on controversial museum exhibits (“The idea of . . . so-called works of art in which people are throwing elephant dung at a picture of the Virgin Mary is sick!”), and the like. Speaking before the Alabama legislature this spring, he received a standing ovation, and Governor Bob Riley told him, “One of these days, you have to tell me how you really cleaned up New York.” To conservatives, pre-Giuliani New York was a study in failed liberalism, a city that had surrendered to moral and physical decay, crime, racial hucksterism, and ruinous economic pathologies. Perhaps the most common words that Giuliani heard when he travelled around the country this spring were epithets aimed at his city (“a crime-infested cesspool,” one Southern politician declared), offered without fear of giving offense. Giuliani cheerfully agreed.

His supposed unswerving loyalty to the Yankees, which he dropped like a stone after the Sox won the World Series ,temporarily, after the New Yorkers were eliminated in the ALDS.

His father, Harold, a Yankees partisan from East Harlem, once dressed young Rudy in Yankee pinstripes and sent him out to play in the Dodger-mad streets of Brooklyn. Too young to have any say in the matter, Rudy was set upon by the neighborhood toughs, Dodger fans all. A gang of boys seized him, placed a noose around his neck, and threatened to lynch him. (His grandmother intervened.) In one recounting, to John Tierney, of the Times, a dozen years ago, Giuliani said that the incident was his proudest moment, because he refused to renounce his team. “I kept telling them: ‘I am a Yankee fan. I am a Yankee fan. I’m gonna stay a Yankee fan,’ ” he recounted. “To me it was like being a martyr: I’m not gonna give up my religion. You’re not gonna change me.”

Giuliani has said that the experience reveals much about his character: he is, by his account, the stalwart, the lone defender of the cause, even unto martyrdom.

Excessive zeal as a prosecutor in New York:

In February of 1987, he brought charges of insider trading against two Kidder, Peabody executives. As a Wall Street Journal editorial later put it:

Giuliani had his agents burst into Kidder, Peabody, throw Richard Wigton up against the wall and handcuff him. He arranged to bust Timothy Tabor so late in the day that he had to spend a night in jail before he could post bond. Mr. Giuliani didn’t think Mr. Wigton was going to pull a knife or Mr. Tabor would flee the country. He lusted after the headlines, and hoped strong-arm tactics would coerce settlements. This is not the kind of prosecutorial zeal we need when the underlying law is far from clear.

More excessive loyalty:

When he became the U.S. Attorney in New York, some in the office noticed that more lawyers were being hired from—as one of them complained at the time—“places like Catholic University.” A former prosecutor in the office told me, “Rudy surrounded himself with a very small group of people. The ‘Shrewdies,’ some called them—because they all said yes to Rudy. I’ve always thought that he had a surprisingly small inner circle—and they were not always the best and the brightest.”

The same complaint followed Giuliani into politics, where he sometimes seemed to be deliberating inside an echo chamber. Loyalty is the virtue that he most prizes, and its absence in an aide is the surest route to exile. That was the fate of his first police commissioner, William Bratton, whose innovations in police strategies made Giuliani’s stunning reductions in crime possible.

For now, Giuliani remains right in the thick of the GOP race. We'll have to wait to see whether his flaws and/or his record come back to bite him.

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