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Rudy the uniter

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Sunday, Feb. 11, 2007

As America rushes into the wide-open 2008 presidential primary season, about the only thing that is certain is this: Bush fatigue. Republicans desperately need a new face painted on their party.

Enter center-right Rudy Giuliani. For many, he appears to be holding the right brush.

Giuliani entered the presidential race for real last week. Here's a thumbnail version of his social platform, based on his interview with Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity:

"America's mayor" favors defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Thus, he does not favor gay marriages. But he does not oppose civil unions.

Giuliani hates abortion but ultimately believes in the right to choose, favors parental notification with a so-called judicial bypass and supports a ban on partial-birth abortions with provisions to protect a mother's life.

Giuliani says he supports the Second Amendment. Yet, as mayor of New York he admitted that he was in favor of the Brady Bill, considering it necessary to reduce murders, then at 2,000 a year in his city. Giuliani says the Second Amendment must be protected against unreasonable restrictions and favors states' rights on gun laws.

Of the Supreme Court, he could not think of any better appointments than Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia.

Now, would any card-carrying conservative vote for him, especially if he were running against Hillary Clinton• As one high-ranking Republican told me, "Damn straight -- twice, if possible."

Giuliani's path to the Republican nomination starts with more time in New Hampshire than in Iowa, the latter having an electorate that would more likely support him. Iowa matters more than New Hampshire in creating a winner -- but New Hampshire always smacks down the front-runner.

It certainly tested Ronald Reagan's mettle when he famously declared at a stalled primary-eve debate that "I am paying for this microphone ... ." That unscripted moment was a turning point, consequently winning him the debate, the primary and the Republican nomination.

Several scenarios work in Giuliani's favor: the 'round-the-clock coverage, the uncertain times we live in, and a voter-turnout model that will eclipse the 2006 election, which means you have more moderate- and independent-voting Republicans who usually don't show up for primaries.

You also will have states -- like moderate-leaning New Jersey -- that are moving to early primaries.

Giuliani knows his negatives. But the first mistake he should avoid is becoming a reactionary on individual litmus-test issues.

The biggest mistake he could make would be to try to placate all sides of the party and start to flip-flop.

Other candidates have been criticized for trying to gravitate further to the right on issues than where they were in previous years, giving credence to the party faithful's skepticism.

What Giuliani brings to the Republican Party is that he is someone who can rally America rather than divide it. For Republicans, if their worst fear is Hillary Clinton, their best solution may be Rudy Giuliani.

Democrats now running for president are battling over personalities; they're all pretty much on the same page on positions. The struggle between the Republican nominees is going to be less about curb appeal and more about battling issues, leadership ability and who has the right credentials not only to represent the party, but to win in the general election.

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