Opponents attack Giuliani’s New York record
Republican candidate being challenged on gun control and immigration
Rudolph W. Giuliani has showcased his record running the city of New York as he has campaigned for the presidency. But his performance as mayor is now being turned against him as two of his opponents have begun challenging him on two of the biggest issues in the Republican primary: gun control and immigration.
This week, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, started running radio advertisements in Iowa and New Hampshire referring to New York City as a “sanctuary city” in an effort to portray Mr. Giuliani as liberal on immigration, a position that would put him out of step with many Republican voters. And on Tuesday, former Senator Fred D. Thompson, who is not yet officially in the race, threw down the gauntlet with a commentary on his Web site that criticized New York gun laws and mentioned the Giuliani administration’s efforts to sue gun makers.
The criticism of Mr. Giuliani is not surprising given his continued dominance in national polls and the perception among Republicans that he is vulnerable on a host of issues. But it is only now that other candidates have begun engaging him directly.
“I don’t think any of the candidates had really taken shots at Giuliani because maybe they thought his stance on social issues in particular would do the work for them,” said Chuck Laudner, executive director of the Iowa Republican Party. “It’s apparent, not in Iowa but nationally, that that’s not the case. They have to start hammering some of that stuff home.”
Mr. Giuliani’s candidacy has always been considered somewhat unorthodox, given his more moderate views on social issues like abortion, which put him at odds with many in the Republican base. But he had managed through much of the summer to stay mostly above the fray, drawing few direct swipes from his rivals and surprising many with his resiliency atop national polls. That is in no small part, Mr. Giuliani’s advisers said, because of the perception among many Republican voters of his performance as mayor of New York before and after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. Giuliani’s aides shrugged off any notion that his campaign could falter now that he was being directly challenged on his conservative bona fides, arguing that Mr. Giuliani had endured the second-guessing about his candidacy for much of the year.
“Eight and a half months in, we’re still standing,” said Anthony V. Carbonetti, a senior adviser to the campaign. “He’s out there on the campaign trail, and his message is resonating, and we’re very proud of that.”
Mr. Carbonetti said the campaign did not plan to shrink from Mr. Giuliani’s record as mayor. He said the campaign believed that voters would appreciate the nuance of his positions on immigration and gun control and find him the most electable candidate.
But the potency of the issues among Republicans can hardly be overstated. Even many Democrats who came to Congress as part of the new majority in 2006 were elected on pro-gun platforms. And the backlash by the conservative base over illegal immigration, which helped lead to the collapse of the recent Senate bill that offered a pathway to citizenship for the country’s 12 million illegal immigrants, highlighted its potential to reshape a presidential contest.
As mayor, Mr. Giuliani was a strong proponent of gun control, lobbying Congress for a ban on assault weapons and calling for a federal gun licensing system. A video on YouTube shows Mr. Giuliani on “The Charlie Rose Show” in 1995 likening the National Rifle Association to “extremists.”
On the campaign trail, however, he has declared himself a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and has characterized his past positions as part of an effort to reduce crime in New York that may not make sense elsewhere in the country.
Until recently, Mr. Romney’s campaign had mostly tangled with that of Senator John McCain of Arizona. With Mr. McCain’s campaign seen as fading, Mr. Romney has set his sights on Mr. Giuliani, believing the immigration issue affords him an opening.
Mr. Romney is highlighting an executive order Mr. Giuliani inherited from previous administrations but vigorously defended that protects illegal immigrants from being reported to the federal immigration authorities when using city services.
Mr. Giuliani has argued that the policy was necessary for public health and safety. His campaign has also fired back that Mr. Romney failed to take action against known “sanctuary cities” in Massachusetts when he was governor.
It is unclear whether Mr. Romney’s efforts to tar Mr. Giuliani on the issue will succeed, given Mr. Giuliani’s own tough talk on border enforcement as of late.
“They’re both trying to outdo each other on the enforcement side,” said John Fonte, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a right-leaning research group.
Lost amid the back and forth between the two camps is that both Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney appear to have moved significantly rightward in their tone on immigration over the years.
Only a closer examination of their statements on the much more complicated question of how to deal with the illegal immigrants already in the country yields a hint at the beginnings of a policy difference.
Mr. Romney has staked out the position that if the United States enforces the law, over time and through attrition, illegal immigrants will return home and be gradually replaced by legal ones.
Mr. Giuliani has articulated a slightly more nuanced position, arguing that once the border problem is solved, policy makers can turn to what to do about the existing illegal immigrants. Those who are productive citizens, who have not committed crimes, should be able to come forward, be given ID cards, learn English, pay fines and be given a chance at citizenship, Mr. Giuliani has said on the trail. Those who do not come forward, or are criminals, he said, should be deported.
Mr. Fonte said his sense was that both candidates had groped their way to a harder line on the issue than they might have held in the past, but that Mr. Romney had made the move more quickly.
“Romney might be slightly ahead of Giuliani,” he said, “but not by much.”