CONCORD, N.H. _Rudy Giuliani's thinking about running for president again, but he's got to overcome a big hurdle: New Hampshire Republicans who should be his biggest fans don't seem enthusiastic.
The former New York City mayor needs to do well, and probably win, this state's GOP presidential primary, traditionally the nation's first, to be a viable candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
But his dilemma was obvious this week. He spoke Thursday at an Italian restaurant in North Conway, while about 90 miles away, Doug and Stella Scamman, influential Giuliani supporters in 2008, hosted 400 eager Mitt Romney backers for the former Massachusetts' governor's campaign kickoff.
"The issues of today are very different," explained Stella Scamman. "Our government is overspending, and the economy is not doing well. Mitt Romney has the background."
Giuliani, 67, is expected to wait till late summer to declare his 2012 intentions, but he's actively gauging support. He spent two days this week in New Hampshire, giving a speech to Dover Republicans and giving interviews to local media.
His hosts at Vito Marcello's Italian Bistro expected about 45 people for his appearance; twice that many showed up. Giuliani talked about how voters seem unenthusiastic about the current GOP field, which polls have also found.
He challenged Romney over health care, saying the former Massachusetts governor should admit that the state plan Romney signed into law was a mistake. The law is widely considered a model for the 2010 federal health care plan that Romney and most other Republican view as deeply flawed.
Giuliani is personally popular in New Hampshire. "He fits well with the state, and has high favorability," said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
But even if he does well here, the next crucial question is: Where else can he win? Will the Republican Party, a party full of conservative tea party enthusiasts, nominate someone who in the past has backed abortion rights and gun control measures? A twice-divorced mayor of a city that for many is the epicenter of American liberalism?
Giuliani's unlikely to get far in Iowa, traditionally the site of the first presidential caucus. Tim Pawlenty, who governed the neighboring state of Minnesota for eight years, is building a strong organization.
And, added Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, "I wouldn't rule out anything, of course, but it's pretty hard to be a successful presidential candidate when you're not a full-spectrum conservative."
Neither are Giuliani's prospects bright in South Carolina, likely to host the first Southern primary. "A lot of bedrock conservatives just won't accept his personal life," said David Woodard, a Clemson, S.C.-based Republican consultant and political science professor.
After South Carolina, next on the calendar would be bigger states. Giuliani made a strong, last-ditch push in Florida three years ago, but finished a distant third with 14.7 percent in its GOP primary. Lance deHaven-Smith, a political scientist at Florida State University, doesn't see better prospects in 2012.
"There's a big New York contingent in Florida, but most of them are New Deal Democrats," he said.
Florida Republican primary voters lean very conservative — in 2010 they pushed moderate Gov. Charlie Crist out of the race for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination. Conservative Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., went on to win the seat with nearly half the vote.
Giuliani's strength is the perception he's a strong, get-it-done executive. New York City's annual murder tally dropped by two-thirds during his tenure, and he cut taxes and increased spending dramatically.
But his reputation was sagging by summer, 2001. His popularity was down. He was accused of condoning overly aggressive police tactics, remained deeply unpopular in the black community and would leave his successor with a huge budget deficit.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, though, his take-charge attitude earned him the moniker of "America's Mayor," and a national following.
New Hampshire voters routinely like the idea of a strong manager like Giuliani.
"He's a fix-it man," said Ed Hale, a Plaistow furniture salesman.
"A no-nonsense attitude," added Dennis Brady, a retired Exeter plant manager who backed Giuliani last time but is now undecided.
But there are so many new obstacles, some left over from last time. Giuliani, New Hampshire folks say, never did the little things, the phone calls, notes, home visits and so on that activists here demand.
"There was a perception he didn't want New Hampshire as much as he should have," said state Republican Party Vice Chairman Wayne MacDonald.
"And of course, we do remember that," said John Vattes, a retired Manchester utility worker.
Giuliani ran an on-again, off-again New Hampshire campaign last time, and finished a distant fourth in the primary with 8.6 percent.
Giuliani last week told the New Hampshire Union-Leader that "I'd never run the campaign like the one I ran three years ago. That was a big mistake."
As he tours the state this spring and summer, he said, he'll seek venues that are "much more informal, not all the bells and whistles and bands and all that stuff. It turns people off."
Other problems could vex his campaign, notably that voters this year also have different concerns. The sluggish economy, not national security, is by far the dominant issue. And unlike 2008, Republicans are increasingly confident they can beat President Barack Obama, and want a candidate who won't divide the party and can win the general election.
Giuliani is often viewed as too polarizing.
"He's seen by conservatives as more liberal than most other candidates," said Hale, "and it's that liberalism that gets him in trouble."
All the good things 2008 Giuliani supporters say about the former mayor, they now also say about others.
"I look for a record of accomplishment, someone who can lead a group and accomplish goals," said Brady. "Romney has a proven record of taking on tough tasks, and he's a little smoother."
Just as important in this state where the Republicans all seem to know one another, Romney, who has a home in Wolfeboro, has been all over New Hampshire in recent months. The Scammans recalled going to a chili fest in September and seeing Romney speak for 20 minutes.
"He had an understanding of the big picture," said Doug Scamman. "I thought to myself, no one else could stand there like this for 20 minutes and make everyone listen."
Not even Giuliani?
"It's time to give Mitt Romney a chance," said Stella Scamman.
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