WASHINGTON — They're 12 planks in a platform, a dozen vows to voters that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani hopes will lead him to the White House.
Taking his cue from "The Contract with America," which Republicans credit with catapulting them into control of Congress in 1994, Giuliani is campaigning across the country on his "12 Commitments," a list he unveiled in June of what he intends to do if he's elected president.
His commitments are, to put it charitably, somewhat vague. But by espousing market-driven approaches to health care, education and energy policy — and reaffirming his stands to end illegal immigration and reduce abortions — Giuliani hopes that the "commitments" will appeal to Republican voters who question his conservative bona fides.
"It sets him apart by putting down markers; it reinforces his strengths," said Republican strategist Bill Dal Col, who managed magazine publisher Steve Forbes' 1996 presidential campaign.
"It's different than what most candidates have done in the past. He's rolling out policy early. It reinforces what people believe: that he's got a set of beliefs."
If elected, Giuliani promises to fight terrorism proactively, end illegal immigration, restore fiscal discipline and cut wasteful federal spending, cut taxes and overhaul the tax code, hold the federal bureaucracy accountable, provide choice in health-care coverage, increase adoptions and reduce abortions, appoint strict constructionist judges, make sure that communities are prepared for terrorist attacks or natural disasters, provide school choice, lead America toward energy independence and increase America's role in the global economy.
"This is how I want to be judged," Giuliani said in a June speech in Bedford, N.H.
It's how his rivals in both parties want him judged, too. While Giuliani and his supporters say the 12 promises show aggressive, forward-thinking leadership, his opponents say they highlight inconsistencies between what he's pledging now and how he ran New York's City Hall.
"He has to show his commitment to the conservative cause," said Steven Brams, a New York University political science professor. "It's a pledge of allegiance even though it refutes part of his past. He's putting himself on the line, sort of like the first President (George H.W.) Bush and the 'read my lips' tax promise."
Democrats pounced on Giuliani last week when he sought to flesh out his health-care promise by detailing a plan that calls for a $15,000 tax break for Americans who don't have employer-based insurance. They dismissed his ideas as a warmed-over version of what the current President Bush once floated unsuccessfully.
Aides to Giuliani's Republican opponents gleefully noted that the former mayor's last try at retooling a health-care system — privatizing New York City's public hospitals — failed.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to trash their opponent in the names of their own campaigns, they also called Giuliani's vow to end illegal immigration a negative campaign ad waiting to happen, because Giuliani spoke passionately as mayor about the positive contributions of illegal immigrants to life in New York. He even chastised former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, for supporting a bill to restrict public benefits to legal immigrants.
"Some of the hardest-working and most productive people in this city are undocumented aliens," Giuliani said in June 1994. "If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you're one of the people we want in this city. You're somebody that we want to protect, and we want you to get out from under what is often a life of being like a fugitive, which is really unfair."
Asked to explain why he's taking the opposite tack now, Maria Comella, a Giuliani campaign spokeswoman, said he'd now consistently pressed the federal government to do something about illegal immigration, which he considered a threat to national security.
"The bottom line is we live in a post-Sept. 11 (2001) world and we need to look at illegal immigration through a different lens, and that's security first," she said.
Giuliani's opponents and the press certainly will challenge him to square his "commitments" with his past positions, but Dal Col thinks that the former mayor won't have any problems doing so with voters.
"People will give him the benefit of the doubt," he said. "He's got this capital in the bank. I think the average voter will discount (the differing views) and say, 'He worked in New York, a den of inequity, and made it better. It probably would have been worse if Giuliani wasn't mayor.' "
Some observers think the promises were a pre-emptive strike against former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson's pending entry into the Republican presidential sweepstakes, a contention that the Giuliani camp disputes.
Even without Thompson being formally in the race, his numbers in several polls have risen as Giuliani's have declined, though the New Yorker remains the top Republican candidate nationally. Thompson, an actor who stars in NBC's "Law & Order" series, was expected to jump into the race last month, but people in his camp now say he's likely to do it next month.
"The promises were designed to show Giuliani likes to think about policy, he's a policy wonk," said Fred Siegel, the author of "Prince of the City," a largely positive assessment of Giuliani's mayoralty. "It was also intended to put the heat on Thompson, to put pressure on him to say something other than 'I'm from Tennessee, I drive a pickup truck and I'm on TV.' "
Though Giuliani is touting his 12 promises on the campaign trail and in radio ads in Iowa and New Hampshire, some analysts question whether the vows are resonating with voters.
"People aren't saying, 'Here are the commitments,' " said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Iowa's Drake University. "It may have gotten him attention when he announced it, but is it setting the agenda? No."
Giuliani's 12 commitments:
— Fight terrorism proactively.
— End illegal immigration.
— Restore fiscal discipline and cut wasteful federal spending.
— Cut taxes and overhaul the tax code.
— Hold the federal bureaucracy accountable.
— Provide choice in health-care coverage.
— Increase adoptions and reduce abortions.
— Appoint strict constructionist judges.
— Make sure that communities are prepared for terrorist attacks or natural disasters.
— Provide school choice.
— Lead America toward energy independence.
— Increase America's role in the global economy.