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Giuliani makes first statewide tour of New Hampshire

LACONIA, N.H. — Barely allowing time for his Thanksgiving holiday dinner to digest, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani crisscrossed New Hampshire on Saturday to signal the start of his final sprint toward the 2008 presidential primaries.

On the first day of his first bus tour of the state, Giuliani touted his experience as mayor of the nation's largest city and blasted the Democratic presidential field as tax-raising military defeatists who would be soft on terrorism and illegal immigration if elected to the White House next November.

At each stop, Giuliani presented himself as a goal-oriented, results-oriented option to the Republican and Democratic fields. At a town-hall meeting in a wood-paneled VFW lodge here, Giuliani didn't talk about his handling of New York in the aftermath the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center — the cornerstone of his campaign.

Instead, he trumpeted his fiscal accomplishments and presented his vision for handling illegal immigration.

"They said it was impossible to take on the Mafia. I did and had great success when I was U.S. attorney," Giuliani said. "They said it was really impossible to reduce crime in New York City. We reduced by about 60 percent and it's still going down. ... They said it was impossible to do anything about welfare and we reduced it by about 640,000 people."

Giuliani told the audience he advocates construction of a high-tech border fence to prevent illegal immigration while increasing the flow of legal immigration.

On the stump, he avoided directly criticizing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and the rest of the GOP presidential pack — leaving that to campaign surrogates aboard the press bus.

Instead, he blasted the leading Democratic candidates — New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards — for their lack of government executive experience.

"They've never run a city ... they've never run a government, they've never run a business," he said. "They've never had the safety and security of millions and millions of people in their hands."

Giuliani's two-day bus swing is his 21st trip to New Hampshire since January. He leads in most national polls but trails Romney in most surveys in the Granite State. A CNN/WMUR television poll by the University of New Hampshire last week showed Giuliani has slipped into a statistical tie for second with McCain.

"Giuliani has not campaigned in New Hampshire with the intensity of either Romney or McCain," Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said in a written statement. "To win in New Hampshire, you have to engage in grass roots campaigning. Both Romney and McCain made strategic decisions to concentrate on early states and spend a lot of time in New Hampshire. Giuliani decided to run a much more national campaign."

But Saturday was all about New Hampshire for Giuliani. With local elected officials who've endorsed him in tow, the former New York mayor participated in a question-and-answer session at the VFW hall, met residents at a Winnisquam plant nursery, enjoyed a meet-and-greet lunch in Concord, received support from Manchester Republican Mayor Frank Guinta and participated in the Nashua Winter Holiday Stroll.

Though Romney leads in New Hampshire, he is not a lock to win the Jan. 8 primary. The UNH poll found that 57 percent of the state's residents still haven't decided whom they're voting for.

Mike Browher, 49, a Republican voter from Meredith, stopped by the Laconia VFW hall to listen to what Giuliani had to offer.

"I know I really don't like Romney, I like Huckabee but he really doesn't stand a chance," Browher said. "We get a lot of Ron Paul things in the mail. I'm looking for somebody to beat the Democrats, which will be tough. He (Giuliani) is probably the only one who can beat Hillary or Obama."

Michael Little, a 40-year-old Laconia resident, said he's still undecided. He attended the VFW event to hear what Giuliani had to say about illegal immigration and terrorism.

"How he would reel in immigration and what to do in Iraq are important to me," he said. "I want to bring the troops back here, but I don't think it can be done like turning a light switch."