Posted: Jan. 13, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Rudolph W. Giuliani was exactly what merciful political gods would have ordered for Delaware's Republican Party -- someone who proved it is possible for a lone Republican to thrive and triumph in a Democratic snake pit.

In New York, where attitude is everything and city dwellers brag that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, Rudy Giuliani not only showed he could make it there, but transcend it, going from New York's mayor to laying claim to being America's mayor and a leading candidate for its next president.

State Republicans were unquestionably ready for that happily-ever-after political tale when Giuliani came to Wilmington to receive the "Pete du Pont Individual Freedom Award" at a dinner Friday evening at the Hotel du Pont, where the Gold Ballroom sometimes seems like the last stand of a party shrinking to its irreducible du Pont core.

It has been bad enough that the Republicans here have been shut out of the governorship for four terms and watched their statewide winnings diminish to two of the nine officeholders, but now even one of those -- U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle -- has undergone a change in fortune, through no fault of his own, with the Congress switching to Democratic control.

"I am delighted to be here tonight," Castle told the crowd of about 320 people. "I have spent this last week in Washington, D.C., in the company of Democrats."

Giuliani quickly put an end to the moping. "There are more Republicans in this room than in all of Manhattan," he quipped.

"If you want to be a leader, you have to be an optimist," he added, getting a laugh as he asked the Republicans how they would respond if he began his speech by wiping his brow and droning, "Things are bad. And they're only going to get worse. And there's no hope. None. Follow me."

The Republicans also could console themselves that they were seeing something their Democratic counterparts most likely will not -- a potential presidential candidate who comes to court them.

There is nothing like the flattery of a presidential flirtation -- why else would New Hampshire fight so hard for the first-in-the-nation primary to warm itself in the bleak New England winter? -- and Giuliani was here to show a little shoulder, as have Republicans John McCain, Chuck Hagel and George Pataki before him.

Meanwhile, Democrats like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards can be expected to ply their charms elsewhere, treating the Delaware Democrats like an old married spouse stuck with U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and not worth so much as a sidelong glance.

For the Republican nomination, there are early indications that Delaware is likely to be McCain country, but Giuliani nevertheless got favorable reviews for his appearance and his speech.

He focused on the evening's broad theme of individual freedom as manifested in tax cuts, school vouchers, energy independence and -- of course! -- the fight against terrorism, which is the ex-mayor's fame. He avoided mentioning other examples he also has advocated, such as abortion rights and gay rights.

"McCain would do well here. Giuliani would do well here. He was sounding pretty conservative tonight -- he was focusing on tax cuts and supply-side economics -- which is what he needs to do. I'm a McCain guy myself, but it was a good speech, good buzz in the room," said John R. Matlusky, the Republican national committeeman.

Castle, who holds the most coveted endorsement in the state, also found Giuliani impressive. "He should run. There's a reason he's far up in the polls at this point. He not only talks about being a leader, he's done it," Castle said, adding emphatically, "I'm not endorsing anyone at this point."

Republican candidates do not come to Delaware only for votes, however, but also for the high per capita rate of campaign contributions. People can vote only once, but they can write multiple checks, and Giuliani was able to mingle in a private reception before the dinner with 10 patrons who had the wherewithal to pay $10,000 to be "Gold Sponsors" and another 26 who paid $1,000 or $1,500 to be "Silver Sponsors."

No matter what votes or contributions Giuliani gets here in the future, he walked out of the event with a trophy and $10,000 prize that constitute the "Individual Freedom Award," created by former Gov. Pierre S. du Pont, a Republican who served two terms from 1977 to 1985.

Giuliani was recognized for his courage and dedication in the terrorist attacks of September 11 in his waning days as mayor and for his commitment to individual freedom through tax cuts and crime fighting during his two-term administration from 1993 to 2001.

"They [Democrats] trust government more. We trust people more," Giuliani said.

It is an article of faith that Republicans do not like much government, although here in Delaware, they would like to have much more of it for themselves.