Rudy Giuliani's supporters call him "America's Mayor." But he is something more: the first serious presidential candidate in history with a vowel at the end of his name.
Oddly, so far in this year of ethnic — and gender — identity politics, Rudy's Italian-American heritage hasn't been much of an issue. Much more attention has gone to Hillary's "favorite daughter" campaign, Barack Obama's quest for African-American authenticity, Bill Richardson self-depiction as the first Hispanic candidate and the Mormon beliefs of Mitt Romney.
Almost nobody has focused on Rudy as the Italian Stallion. Yet.
"Italian-Americans aren't usually thought of as an electoral bloc," says Dr. Diane Heith, a political scientist as St. John's University. "They aren't even polled separately."
Nobody even knows how many Italian-Americans there are. The 2000 census reported almost 16 million, making them the fourth largest white ethnic group — and the only one that experienced growth in the last decade. The National Italian American Foundation puts the number at 25 million, close to 10 percent of the population. Either way, it is possible that there are more Italian-American voters than either blacks or Hispanics.
Not only that, Italian-Americans are strategically located. In four states — New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut — they make up more than 15 percent of the population. They are also heavily concentrated in the key swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Florida and California. These are mostly Democratic states; the Republicans haven't had a candidate who could challenge in all of them since Ronald Reagan.
But would Italian-American independents (or Democrats) vote for Giuliani out of ethnic pride or solidarity? In the absence of polling data, there are informed guesses.
"Once Italians voted Democratic," says John Salamone, executive director of the NIAF, a non-partisan umbrella group based in D.C. "In recent elections, they have tended to split along the lines of the national divide — about one third Democratic, one third Republican and one third independent. We're a very assimilated community."
Still, this is the first time Italian-Americans have had a national candidate to support. As Giuliani's candidacy has begun to take off, Salamone has been surprised by a growing grass-roots enthusiasm. "Every day I get calls and emails from across the country, from Republicans and Democrats. This isn't an endorsement, but I do believe it will translate into votes."
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