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Rudy’s Weaknesses

Speculation is swirling about who tipped off Ben Smith of the Politico about the peculiar methods used to bill police protection for then Mayor Giuliani when he, though still married, was visiting his girlfriend Judith Nathan in the Hamptons. Was it Fran Reiter, a former Giuliani Deputy Mayor now working for the Hillary Clinton campaign? Was it New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson hoping to help his fellow Democrats? Was it former Governor George Pataki, who was either at odds with or overshadowed by Giuliani when both were in office? If this has the look of an Agatha Christie plot, where a dozen suspects all have good motives, that’s because Giuliani’s path to success was paved with the numerous enemies he made turning New York around and advancing his own ambitions.

The Politico article was not a dirty trick as Giuliani told Katie Couric, but it was a hit piece. It’s been followed in short order by another in the form of a front-page New York Times article suggesting that Giuliani sometimes exaggerates the numbers he uses to describe his successes. STOP THE PRESSES—A POLITICIAN WHO EXAGGERATES! How does this distinguish Giuliani from other politicians? Well, says the Times, he uses a lot of statistics and that means—according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania—that “He’s given us a lot of work up until now.”

Giuliani has repaid the money used for the police protection. But the peculiar billing methods go to two of his biggest vulnerabilities. First it opens the character issue by reminding people that Bernard Kerik, Rudy’s trusted lieutenant whose most recent corruption case has yet to go to trial, was also involved with a girlfriend while married during the closing years of the Giuliani administration. More importantly, it’s a back-door path into the fact, as columnist Michael Goodwin of the Daily News noted to me, that Rudy is the first serious Presidential candidate who is on his third marriage. Giuliani’s affair with Judith Nathan while in office and while still married to Donna Hanover is such an obvious vulnerability that the campaign’s inability to get its response straight suggests important weaknesses in its general operational abilities.

With such a long list of enemies, Giuliani can expect more unflattering revelations. He’s likely to weather them in a somewhat weakened state. But the effect of these political wounds is uncertain because there is no one clear alternative to Rudy. As he has from the start, Rudy is being held aloft not only by his record of achievements but by the absence of a strong alternative.

Right now Giuliani is being helped by the rise of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Should the former Arkansas governor win in Iowa, it would be a major blow to Giuliani’s primary rival at the moment: Mitt Romney. But while Huckabee and Giuliani have only nice things to say about each other (for the moment), if Huckabee emerges as a top tier candidate—in effect displacing the hopes once vested in Fred Thompson—he could become a serious danger to Rudy come the January 29th Florida primary. The Giuliani campaign sees Florida as its firewall, the place where it halts its foes cold and seizes the lead. But Huckabee is rising rapidly in the Florida polls gaining seven points last week alone. If his surge continues, he could reshape the election.