Rudy Giuliani is casting a long shadow over the Democratic as well as the Republican presidential races. Opinion polls indicate the former New York mayor has a large lead not only among likely GOP voters, but in match ups with the leading Democratic contenders as well.
It defies conventional wisdom that a candidate who is pro-choice on abortion and pro-gay rights could be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. But two events have stood the conventional wisdom on its head.
For most conservatives, winning the war on terror is the paramount issue, because nothing else matters much if we lose.
Mr. Giuliani arguably has the best credentials on the paramount issue. All the major GOP candidates say the right things. But his stewardship of the city of New York indicates Rudy has the toughness and leadership to bring us victory. He also has communications skills the current president sadly lacks.
The less important is the Democratic sweep in the 2006 elections. That's convinced all but the most dense conservatives that some ideological accommodation must be made if defeat is to be averted in 2008.
Mr. Giuliani also benefits because there is no strong, popular conservative contending for the GOP nomination. Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have their virtues. But the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan they are not.
Being the frontrunner is always an advantage, especially in the GOP, where the frontrunner has won every nomination since 1964. But it will be enormously more so next year, because we'll have a de facto national primary on Feb. 5.
The frontrunner in the Democratic party is Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY. But while Rudy Giuliani's lead has been growing, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, has cut in half the gap between himself and Ms. Clinton in the last month.
Sen. Obama is an attractive, well spoken man whose civil tongue is a welcome change from what passes for political discourse these days. But in his political views, Mr. Obama is out there with the moonbats. And he lacks the experience most like to see in a presidential candidate. Mr. Obama's rise is more a reflection of Sen. Clinton's shortcomings than of his virtues.
The moonbats don't like Ms. Clinton because of her vote to authorize the war in Iraq, and her refusal to apologize for it.
Hollywood mogul David Geffen, a former Friend of Bill who now supports Mr. Obama, raised another concern. "Everybody in politics lies, but they (Bill and Hillary Clinton) do it with such ease, it's troubling," Mr. Geffen told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
Democrats forgave Bill his frequent departures from the truth, his reckless personal behavior, and his occasional forays into moderation because he is a charming rogue. Hillary is tough as nails and very smart, but "charming" is a description few apply to her.
What Democrats liked best about Bill is that he took back the White House after 12 years of Republican rule. What concerns Democrats most about Hillary is that she might be a loser.
Rudy Giuliani deepens those concerns. Recent polls in Pennsylvania and New Jersey show him creaming her. It is inconceivable that the Democrats can win the presidency if they lose either Pennsylvania or New Jersey, much less both.
If Mr. Giuliani remains the frontrunner among Republicans, I doubt Hillary will among Democrats. I think Ms. Clinton will fend off the challenge from Sen. Obama, who isn't quite ready for prime time. But in knocking him down, she'll deepen concerns Democrats have about her.
By September, Ms. Clinton's team will have covered Mr. Obama with mud, but a lot will have splattered on her in the process. Look for Al Gore to get in the race then. (A Gore candidacy would be the best news I've heard since John Kerry dropped out, but it'll take another column to explain why.)
Will Rudy Giuliani still be the GOP frontrunner come September? He's about to be attacked viciously by both left and right. Much will depend on how he handles the criticism.
Rudy's critics will in part neutralize each other. Complaints from the left that he was insufficiently attentive to the constitutional rights of criminal defendants won't hurt him in Republican primaries. Reminders from the right that he's a social moderate won't estrange Independents.
Mr. Giuliani hasn't closed the sale. But his strong showing in the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend indicates Republicans are in a mood to buy.