Monday, November 19, 2007

Will Rudy Be as Bulletproof as Bill Clinton?

As the year began, the Giuliani campaign seemed doomed by its own lost playbook, which listed his liabilities in bullet form: his third marriage after publicly cheating on his second wife; his consulting business with a less-than-sterling partner, Bernard Kerik; his liberal positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control, to say nothing of a New York style that might not charm red-states residents.

Yet here he is at year's end leading in the polls, the cross-dresser darling of the Religious right, with even the redoubtable Frank Rich in his Sunday Times column reduced to citing Judith Regan as the "silver bullet" that might pierce the heart of his campaign.

Not likely. More and more, Rudy is resembling the Bill Clinton of 1992, who (with an assist from you-know-who) survived his Gennifer Flowers scandal and went on to overcome stories of smoking marijuana ("I didn't inhale") and dodging service in Vietnam.

Now, as Hillary Clinton takes flak for not making her First Lady papers public fast enough, Giuliani is skating past complaints about moving 2,100 boxes of documents from his tenure as mayor to his own tax-exempt foundation before turning them back to the city. Only the mildest of questions has been raised about the papers, which include 9/11 records, being "sanitized" for campaign purposes.

After a media makeover, the current Mrs. Giuliani has emerged to make her first political speech, to an audience of cancer advocates, describing her not-then husband's reaction to hearing the news about his own in 2000.

The campaign's Southern strategy has worked well enough to bring Pat Robertson on board, even after having to dump Louisiana Sen. David Vitter of D.C. Madam fame and a South Carolina chairman accused of dealing cocaine.

After all this and more mishaps, any Judith Regan revelations from her pillow talk with Kerik and about the Murdoch empire's attempts to protect America's Mayor from gossip seem unlikely to derail him.

Only Mitt Romney's money and Iowa voters' orneriness might slow Rudy down. But then again, he could take heart from Bill Clinton's 1992 pattern, when the "Comeback Kid" bypassed Iowa and lost in New Hampshire but still went on to run the table of later primaries and get the nomination.

If the Giuliani campaign needs money, they might want to consider auctioning off signed copies of that lost playbook to die-hard supporters who have faith Rudy will prove it wrong.

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