Thanks to the invitation of a friend and former blogger, I was able to listen to Rudy Guiliani speak today at the New York Sheraton near my office. I wasn't sure what to expect, to be honest; as this friend knows, I'm currently not favoring anybody in the 2008 elections, though I have already decided which candidates I do not like and why.
The room was small, holding perhaps 300 people, but was full. I was surprised by the large number of Orthodox Jews there, particularly Chassidim, including one old family friend; there must have been over 30 frum people there. The stated purpose of the gathering was to show the strong New York support Giuliani has, then having him speak and answer a few short questions.
After a few others spoke (generally short and well) about his leadership, a few of his accomplishments as mayor and how that translates nationally, and the support they were giving him, Giuliani himself spoke. [I'm not going to mention much of what he talked about in this post - perhaps a later one if/when I get a transcript.] I was surprised by a number of things, starting with his demeanor. I expected him to be cheesy and extremely political/guarded with certain sound-byte type statements... but he wasn't at all. He was actually interesting, speaking in a very straight-forward way about what he thinks needs to be done and why, and explaining that nothing is perfect. He also was honest - particularly in the Q&A - about issues which he doesn't yet know enough about. One of the most important features was his ability to give detailed, explained responses and statements - essentially the reverse of what many (on both sides) have been complaining about Barack Obama and a few of the Republican candidates.
As one person noted in an e-mail list I'm on, he's finally gotten past trying to play a lot of the political games, and has started to simply say "Look: This is what I believe, and [if applicable] did for eight years as mayor. This is how I'd do it to accomplish the same goal when I'm President." More importantly, he's not trying be anything he's not anymore, which I felt he was doing as recently as about a month ago. He also discussed a couple of points which I think are very important, notably that the Republican Party shouldn't approach elections with numerous states viewed as losses before they've even begun; as I've discussed before, even if the GOP won just the strong Bush states and picked up NY and one tossup, they can win the election. Just by being able to challenge in the other states makes it almost guaranteed that the GOP can win; sweeping a few turns the election into a landslide.
Obviously, his biggest problem is winning a primary against right-wing conservatives. The fact that he's "electable" will sway many; if he can imply that social issues should be states issues, he'll pick up a lot more. One of the most important points of the night was noted by a man seated behind me in conversation: Whatever he himself may feel on abortion, while he was mayor, Giuliani's record was actually decently conservative - both reducing the number of abortions by a large margin and reducing funding for it.
It will definitely be interesting to see how this election season continues to shape up, and obviously it's way too early to be definitive about favorites. But for the time being, at least, I'm substantially more inclined to vote for Rudy Giuliani than I might have been. Will he be the next President of the United States? Time will tell.