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Giuliani and New Hampshire: A Different Tack, or 2008 Redux?

During the weekend, Politico ran a story on Rudy Giuliani’s pronouncement that if he runs for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, he will do things differently this time around. But is his “new” strategy really new, or is it meant to cement the (erroneous) conventional wisdom about his 2008 run?

Giuliani has worked diligently–as have campaign reporters–to establish as fact that the former New York City mayor’s last election campaign was based on ignoring the early primary states, winning Florida with the help of Charlie Crist, and allowing that (and the “comeback” storyline sure to accompany it) to propel him through Super Tuesday and eventually the nomination.

“New Hampshire would be the key state in his strategy — as opposed to Florida, where he placed his big bet last time,” Maggie Haberman writes early in the story.

The problem with this narrative is that it’s not true.

Giuliani pledged to skip the Iowa caucuses and pour money into New Hampshire last time–which he did. Despite his efforts there, however, he gained no traction in the polls, and rather than let the media pronounce him finished after a contested loss in New Hampshire, he pulled his campaign out early and decamped to Florida.

What carried Giuliani’s pre-candidacy buzz last time was his well-earned reputation as a good crisis manager and a leader in difficult times. But buzz fades. And not only was it insufficient enough to carry him to a win (or close to a win) in New Hampshire, it didn’t even enable him to win Florida–his fail-safe–with its significant number of New York ex-pats, Jewish voters and military bases.

If Giuliani’s reputation wasn’t enough to help him in 2008, why would it be any better this time? In all likelihood, we would expect it to be more difficult to win New Hampshire next year, not less. Haberman asked him about recent polls showing him well behind Romney. “It’s so early, it doesn’t matter,” Giuliani responded, citing his own lead in 2007 that quickly dissipated as the primaries and caucuses began. Fair enough. But shouldn’t that tell him something, too? If he led the polls last time, and yet eventually lost New Hampshire by a wide margin, why would his underdog status help him this time?

Giuliani cites John McCain’s come-from-behind candidacy as the model for the out-funded and out-hyped underdog to succeed. But McCain was the runner-up to Bush in 2000, and was widely assumed to be the “next in line”–a title that has always meant a lot to Republican primary voters. That candidate this time is Romney–who Giuliani trails in both the polls and campaign cash.

Republicans–especially foreign policy hawks–will always remember and respect what Giuliani did after 9/11. Though he never held the title, he seemed to be the country’s director of homeland security during those harrowing weeks after the attacks, and he appeared to be leading the nation right along with George W. Bush. But he simply does not seem to have a realistic path to the Republican nomination, and it is difficult to see what he gains by even running. Perhaps he’ll come to the same conclusion and decide not to run.


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