Rudy Giuliani, clearly uncomfortable with his performance at the first presidential debate of 2008, has elected to jettison the soft pedal on abortion. It wasn't working. He sounded incoherent or indecisive or dodgy -- not the traits the hero of 9/11 wanted to project.
So he has embarked on the risky, but arguably unavoidable, strategy of forthrightness. Speaking in Huntsville, Ala., the former mayor of New York declared that "Ultimately, there has to be a right to choose" on abortion -- the opening gambit of what The New York Times reports is a new direction for his campaign. From now on he will be frank about his pro-choice views and hazard the consequences.
It makes the mind reel to consider that the Republican Party, resolutely pro-life since 1980, could nominate a pro-choice candidate. But this is a peculiar year. Wars have a way of eclipsing other issues, and many Republican voters are more concerned about the grisly plans of jihadists worldwide than anything else.
Some conservatives and Republicans are worried that the president's low approval ratings will damage the Republican "brand" in 2008. This concern was carried into the Oval Office on May 9 when 11 "moderate" Republican members of Congress warned the president that time was running out for progress on Iraq. The more panicky Republican voters become about 2008, the better for Giuliani, right?
Perhaps. A great deal of the energy in Republican primaries has traditionally come from pro-life and traditional values conservatives. On the other hand, exit polls in 2000 showed that among Republican primary voters, abortion ranked fifth among issues important to voters (at 6 percent). In 1996, it ranked fourth. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll reveals that only 23 percent of those leaning Republican say they could not vote for Giuliani because of his stands on abortion and gay rights. That leaves 77 percent who could.
How that will play out in a state like Iowa, which requires organization and inspired volunteers, is not clear. The Des Moines Register's David Yepsen notes that Giuliani has not done the kind of small-scale, one-on-one events political activists in the state have come to expect. "He gives big speeches and races out of town," Yepsen says. Giuliani may be guessing that with the front-loaded primary schedule next year, the small contests in Iowa (Jan. 14) and New Hampshire (Jan. 22) may not matter as much and that his time would be better spent in the big states that have scheduled early primaries like Florida (Jan. 29), and New York, California, New Jersey, Arizona and others on Feb. 5.