Giuliani's Blue-State Argument

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Stephanie Kuykendal / Getty

Republican presidential hopeful and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks in Washington, D.C., October 20, 2007.

Rudy Giuliani has never been shy about saying he is the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton. And lately he has been cranking up the volume on his pragmatic plea for the nomination, saying he is the only one who can scramble the Electoral College in the G.O.P.'s favor.

Speaking to a group of Jewish Republicans on October 16, Giuliani made the case that he alone could put states in play that Democrats have long taken for granted.

"We need a candidate that, you know, the day after the nomination, we don't close down our offices in 20 or 25 states, like we've been doing. We don't win the next election if we don't run a campaign in New York and California. I tell you, we don't."

And only Giuliani, or so his argument goes, can wage those races. "Do we give it away again? The margin of error isn't what it used to be. We decided to kiss away New York, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan — wow."

"I'm the one," he added, "who can be a coast-to-coast candidate."

But can he? For starters, it's hardly accurate to say the G.O.P. kissed off all those states last time around. Several were more competitive than some may recall. Facing Sen. John Kerry, Bush led from time to time in some statewide polls in Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as in Michigan and Pennsylvania well into the last month of the 2004 campaign. I recall sitting with one of Kerry's top strategists on the final weekend of the campaign and hearing him worry out loud over a drink about what a difficult state Wisconsin has become for Democrats.

Of course, that was four years — a lifetime — ago. But even if they have recently been more up for grabs than he would like to admit, it's hardly safe to assume that every one of the states Rudy mentions as gettable is at the moment available to him — or ever likely to be. The onetime New York mayor has never won a statewide race in New York, where Democrats outnumber Republicans roughly 5 to 3. In California, he would need to pick up well over a million votes from Bush's best showing there. New Jersey hasn't voted for a Republican for President since 1988, though there are indications it is becoming less blue than it used to be. When Rudy's backers say his name alone on the G.O.P. ticket would force the Democrats to spend money here or there, they are probably right. But it is worth remembering that the old template about money is gone. Neither side will lack money for anything, anywhere, in 2008 — even money for just-in-case, rear-guard actions.

It is true that Giuliani's more moderate positions on gays and abortion, and his tolerant notions about immigration, may mean that some of those states that have resisted Republicans in presidential contests in recent years might be on the table. Certainly New Jersey (15 electoral votes) , Connecticut (8) and parts of Pennsylvania (21) would go on any careful Democrat's watch list.

But Rudy's Electoral College argument has its share of weak spots. If he would put some blue states into play, his name on the G.O.P. ticket also would invite some red ones onto the dance floor, too. He would have to work harder to hold border states like Tennessee (11) and Missouri (11) than Bush did against Kerry and could hardly take Arkansas (11) for granted, assuming Clinton parks her husband there for a few days in October (that prospect alone is reason for keeping an eye on Mike Huckabee in the G.O.P. veepstakes). Meanwhile, Iowa (7) and New Mexico (5), which turned narrowly red in 2004, could for all kinds of reasons just as easily turn back in 2008.

Whatever its faults, Rudy's unveiled, unapologetic argument about numbers is just another way in which the former New York City mayor continues to surprise. Republicans who back other candidates admit privately that Giuliani is proving far more durable and less error-prone than they ever expected. They acknowledge that Giuliani has likely identified Hillary Clinton as the best unifying issue the Republicans may have in what is shaping up to be a year not otherwise favorable to them. Several people linked to other campaigns told TIME that they are impressed with the gut-level nature of his speeches — as well as his reliably optimistic public persona. And Giuliani is beginning to get the notice of Democrats who just weeks ago, like many Republicans, could not imagine that he would survive the primaries. Said one longtime Democratic strategist, "He could complicate this thing big time."

Which is why we're liable to hear more Electoral College math from Giuliani as we head down the road.