Posted: June 14, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There are 236 candidate shopping days left until Delaware's presidential primary on Feb. 5, and Rudy Giuliani powered in here Thursday morning to shoot for the top of the Republican list.

Giuliani rolled into Wilmington in a hulking black Cadillac Escalade with New York plates, tinted windows and a shine like patent leather. It looked impenetrable enough to take a blast from a roadside bomb with no more than a shudder and then hunt down the creep who planted it.

This is the image Giuliani cultivates. He says he should be elected president because his experience as New York's mayor on Sept. 11, 2001, when the terrorists struck and the twin towers fell, makes him the candidate most committed to keeping the country on offense against terrorism.

It makes his campaign visceral. Crowds expect to hear him talk about that day. He is the ultimate eyewitness. No matter how many times Giuliani has spoken about it, he does it without sounding stale and without sounding exploitative, even though he is a politician and it is probably the best ticket there is to the presidential dance.

Without it, there is little reason to think this sprawling country would have the remotest interest in electing an acidic ex-mayor who comes from where he comes from, not in a New York minute.

Giuliani made two stops here. The first was a fund-raiser for his campaign at the University of Delaware Goodstay Center, off-limits to the press, with about 120 people paying $250 for breakfast, $1,000 for a private reception or $2,300 for the reception and a photograph with the candidate. The second was a $10-a-ticket rally staged by the state Republican Party at the Terrace at Greenhill and attended by more than 250 people.

The mass event was billed as a Flag Day rally. To the Republicans' credit, they did not turn it into a cheesy demonstration of tiny flags waving. The only U.S. flag in evidence was the one that belonged there in the custom of placing it on one side of the speaker's lectern with the state flag on the other.

The press coverage was substantial with news outlets from Delaware, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington. It was a politician's dream and a welcome blaze of glory for the Delaware Republicans, who may be the minority party but can attract a presidential front-runner while the Democrats are stuck with Joe Biden.

It was also a marked contrast to Mitt Romney's visit here two weeks ago. He squirreled himself away on a guarded Chateau Country estate for a pricey fund-raiser followed by a picnic that was closed to the press. It seemed as though he was sending a message that he was not interested in reaching out to Delaware but only into its wallets.

The practice of the electorate here is to vote for the presidential candidates who come to see them -- the way Republican Steve Forbes and Democrat John Kerry did -- but Romney's appearance is not likely to count for much with no evidence that he cared whether people knew he stopped by.

For Giuliani, it was his second visit to Delaware this year after keynoting a Republican gala in January. The state is getting his attention as one of about 20 voting on Feb. 5, probably the definitive day for the presidential nomination after leadoff contests in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Giuliani also regards Delaware as one of those Democratic-leaning Northeast states he could bring to the Republican column as the nominee.

"We need a Republican candidate in 2008 who has a good chance to win Delaware and Pennsylvania and New Jersey and a state I know something about, New York," Giuliani said.

The Rudy-watchers ranged from committed to curious.

Among the committed, there were three key Republicans running Giuliani's local campaign -- Louis J. Freeh, the FBI ex-director who was with MBNA, Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman, and Frank A. Ursomarso Sr., the auto dealer who was a White House aide for three presidents.

Rakestraw, who introduced Giuliani, said, "Rudy Giuliani is an optimistic leader. He believes that America's best days are still ahead. He is America's mayor, and with your help, he will become America's president."

Among the curious, there were Republicans who were candidate shopping, as cagey as the New Hampshire voters who keep the contenders coming by keeping them guessing.

Senate Minority Leader Charles L. Copeland said, "I'm still window shopping. Looking at what's on the other side of the aisle, I think we've got great candidates."

Sussex County Councilman Vance C. Phillips, recently elected the Republican state vice-chair, said, "The beauty of holding a position in the party is you can stay neutral."

Giuliani spoke for about 20 minutes, grafting a Flag Day theme onto his standard stump speech. "Before Sept. 11, I only wore a flag [lapel pin] rarely," he said. "I started wearing it every day. Each time it reminds me of Sept. 11. The flag was very, very important to me that day."

Giuliani recalled the moment he knew the country would come through -- when he saw the photograph of the firefighters raising the flag above the steaming pile at Ground Zero. "It looked just like Iwo Jima. I said to myself, the spirit of America is still the same. I'm running for president because I want to keep the spirit of America still the same," he said.

There was but a tiny glitch in Giuliani's remarks before he was driven away in the Cadillac Escalade. "Delaware is one of the great states. It's one of the first states," he said.

One of the first? That talk may work in New Hampshire, which was the ninth and deciding state to ratify the Constitution, but not here, not in the First State.

Delaware is no more "one of the first" than New York City is "one of the Big Fruits."