Rudy Heads South

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J.PAT CARTER / AP

Political pundits have long discounted former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential prospects, claiming that his particular brand of tough-talking, socially moderate conservatism would never play south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But Rudy has never been one to listen to conventional wisdom, and lately at least, he has been turning up the heat in southern conservative political circles.

In just the last week, he endorsed Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry for re-election and met with Evangelicals in Florida. Most impressively, he actually outpaced U.S. Senator John McCain in a just-released Georgia poll, garnering the support of 28 percent of Georgia Republicans to McCain's 22 percent, echoing numbers in December's CNN/USA Today/Gallup nationwide poll. The conservative blog, RightWingNews reported last week that while Condoleezza Rice was the top choice of 230 conservative bloggers for the Republican nomination, Giuliani came in second, beating out U.S. Senator George Allen and Newt Gingrich. Nationwide, Rudy earned a 63 percent favorable rating in a Pew Research Center poll in October.

In addition to supporting Perry, Giuliani has planted a Texas-sized footstep in the Lone Star State—now with three more Electoral College votes than New York. Last spring, he became a name partner in a Houston law firm, Bracewell and Giuliani, noted for its Bush connections and roster of major energy clients.

The Catholic mayor is also busy burnishing his ties to Christian conservatives. Pat Robertson has said Rudy would make "a good president" and the mayor was a headliner for a fundraising committee supporting former Christian Coalition executive Ralph Reed in his bid to be Georgia's lieutenant governor. Last week, Giuliani dropped by an Orlando meeting of the Global Pastors Network and told the Evangelical leaders that "only God knows" if he will run for president. The group offered their prayers for him and he responded in kind, showing an openly devout side not many people had seen before: "I can't tell you from my heart how much I appreciate what you are doing—saving people, telling them about Jesus Christ and bringing them to God."

Still, Giuliani's southern strategy may be an uphill climb. "It's a real stretch for Giuliani to get out voters in southern Republican primaries," Richard Murray, head of the University of Houston's Center for Public Policy said. "He has too much baggage to get through the southern primaries." Murray said Giuliani's best shot may be as a "ticket balancer," a moderate vice president to a conservative ticket leader, especially if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee.If that were the case, and Rudy got to take on the senator from New York, he would feel right at home, no matter where he was stumping for votes.