The Rockaway Irregular
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky
New Yorkers face an interesting prospect in 2008: a presidential campaign where both major candidates are "native sons" (or daughters, as the case may be). Of course Hillary Clinton is something of a carpetbagger but she's been adopted by voters in this state with enthusiasm, convincingly trouncing her GOP opponent, former Yonkers mayor John Spencer, in 2006. On the Republican side, the on-again/ off-again national frontrunner is our own former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani.
Rudy, as he's affectionately known to his supporters, looks well primed to take the GOP nomination, despite conservative voters' misgivings over his stances on abortion, gay civil unions, gun control and, of course, his personal life. Indeed, if he ultimately wins the nomination and the presidency, he may be the only president to have publicly performed in drag - twice.
So it could be a match-up of two New York politicians vying for the blue state votes of native New Yorkers. Although our electorate tends to be predominantly Democratic, Giuliani still speaks to many here who remember him for his energetic stint at City Hall where he proved our metropolis, cobbled together out of a number of towns and villages into a five borough extravaganza back in 1898, still governable.
But Giuliani isn't likely to have an easy go of it, assuming he wins the nomination, because of Republican travails nationally.
If he does take the nomination, of course, and Senator Clinton wins it on the Democratic side, it will make for an interesting match-up since the two of them almost faced off once before when the Senator first ran in New York. Though widely bruited about as the New York GOP's best hope of stopping her, Giuliani was having marital and health problems at the time and decided to "pass," leaving Hillary to secure her position as junior Senator from New York against little known Long Island Republican Congressman Rick Lazio.
Now, Hillary and Rudy seem to be on a collision course again. Although neither has the nomination locked up and there's still plenty of dissatisfaction among their respective bases with both, they're each seen as front runners in their parties' races, despite the significant negatives both carry. Hillary has a reputation for being a somewhat cynical and ruthless political operative who, though very smart, is not above twisting her positions into veritable pretzels to win votes. And, of course, she's a red flag to many conservatives (not an especially big liability in New York State though it may work against her nationally). Rudy was no less a polarizing figure as mayor of New York and, though he has assiduously cultivated a socially liberal image, sometimes seems to stimulate as much bile on the left as Hillary does on the right.
Neither are particularly handsome figures either. Rudy's baldness emphasizes his somewhat oversized skull, giving him a faintly cadaverous look, while his voice has a disconcertingly thin, almost lispy quality. Still, while lacking charisma (not unusual for Republican presidential contenders!), he's a smart cookie who knows how to handle himself before an audience.
No less bright, Hillary's a good deal better looking than he is, but her voice on the stump has a somewhat strained and strident quality. Her efforts to connect with audiences (as when she blatantly emulates a southern drawl before black church gatherings) also tend to highlight her condescending side. Still, she's not known for cross-dressing (though if she were, her base wouldn't be likely to hold it against her).
Both Hillary and Rudy still face very credible challengers. Hillary's got the deep-voiced darling of the left, Barack Obama out of Illinois, and smooth talking lawyer and some time hedge fund consultant John Edwards breathing down her neck (no need to mention the ever-formidable Dennis Kucinich!), while Rudy's feeling the heat from former Vietnam-era POW John McCain and handsome businessman and ex-governor Mitt Romney (a big fundraiser if not, so far, much of a vote-getter in the polls). And then there's the stir over lawyer and Senator, turned television actor, Fred Thompson, who's been tantalizing the conservative base with the promise of his candidacy.
All in all, it looks like an unusual presidential race shaping up, especially when the most "white bread" of candidates on the Republican side is a Mormon and, on the Democratic side, it's a fast-talking rich boy populist who pays incredibly big bucks for his frequent coiffures.
If we ultimately get a race between two New Yorkers out of this, things may really get interesting. As newly installed Queens County Chair Phil Ragusa proclaimed in a recent press release: "if Rudy is the Republican nominee, New York would be in play for a Republican presidential contender for the first time since Ronald Reagan carried the state in 1984." That's pretty big news for a political party that's been spiraling downhill in this state for years.
A Giuliani candidacy can provide Republicans with a lift they've sorely lacked up until now as Democrats have romped to lopsided victories over them, year after year, in a drive that seems set to institutionalize a one-party system in our region.
There are drawbacks to a Giuliani candidacy, to be sure, but all the candidates out there have them . . . on both sides. On the other hand, if Americans see in Giuliani a strong potential president who doesn't mince his words, has a solid track record in dealing with terrorists and in managing difficult government bureaucracies, then he may resonate beyond New York. If he resonates in New York, too, the state's GOP may also be primed for a come-back.