WASHINGTON — Note to Rudy Giuliani: Say goodbye to the honeymoon and hello to presidential politics. In recent weeks, the former New York City mayor has taken heat for his abortion rights stance, links to ex-police commissioner Bernard Kerik who is enmeshed in legal woes, business ties and personal life. Giuliani's ascent in national popularity polls has stalled. And the Republican front-runner came in second in first-quarter fundraising among Republicans.
"I'm very happy with where we are," the GOP presidential contender said last week despite the rough patch.
After months of playing coy, Giuliani made clear he was a candidate in February. He opened a double-digit lead over previous front-runner John McCain in national surveys and captured headlines. His sudden, unfettered rise prompted Washington's political insiders to wonder if he was coated in Teflon.
But that's changing.
"He's hit the stage of the campaign everybody expected him to hit," said David Winston, a Republican pollster.
From the start, Giuliani's aides have dismissed polls and said they anticipated a competitive GOP nomination fight. They insist they are pleased with the state of his bid.
Rival campaigns, for their part, hope Giuliani's recent bumps are the beginning of an unraveling.
"People are now starting to scrutinize him," said Ed Rollins, a former White House political director under President Reagan. "The spotlight's on Giuliani, and he'll either rise to the occasion or he'll falter."
The early scrutiny may already have had an effect.
On the fundraising front, the ex-mayor reported collecting $15 million from January through March - $6 million less than Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor in the single digits in most national surveys.
The 9/11 candidate
Giuliani still leads in such polls but the gap has shrunk some. He had 44 percent support in a Gallup Poll in early March and, a month later, was at 38 percent. On the state level, he remains virtually tied with McCain in early primary polls.
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While New Yorkers know the Brooklyn native well, GOP strategists say much of the general public defines him only by his widely praised response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Happy to help inform voters of other parts of his biography, opposing campaigns have quietly been gathering - and distributing - potentially damaging research. The media also has taken a closer look. And, longtime critics have turned up the volume on their complaints.
'I am who I am'
The first shot came in March from the International Association of Firefighters, which again accused Giuliani of committing "egregious acts" against firefighters who died on Sept. 11. Specific complaints centered on dedication to the search for remains at Ground Zero. The campaign dismissed the criticism as disgruntled union leaders upset with past labor disputes.
Lately, Giuliani has been drawing the ire of social conservatives because of his long-standing support for public funding of some abortions. He reiterated his stance twice last week, prompting the conservative National Review to write in an editorial: "Mayor Giuliani has tied himself in knots. His position makes neither logical, moral, nor political sense."
Giuliani made no apologies. "I am who I am. People have to evaluate the whole record," he said.
This week in Alabama, Giuliani stumbled when a reporter asked him about the cost of a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk; he was off the mark on both staples. And, he said he did not recall seeing a Confederate flag during his daylong visit to the statehouse - even though four such flags flew across the street from the building.
Recently, Giuliani had to clarify his comment suggesting that his wife would play a significant role in his administration. He later issued a statement saying she will not be a member of his Cabinet or attend most high-level meetings.
Past continues to haunt
As federal prosecutors seek multiple charges against Kerik, Giuliani again had to acknowledge that he made a mistake when he recommended him to be Homeland Security secretary in 2004.
He commented after a newspaper report that he had been warned before hiring Kerik as police commissioner about Kerik's relationship with a company with suspected ties to organized crime. Giuliani said he did not remember being briefed about Kerik's relationship with the company. It has denied ties to organized crime.
Separately, Giuliani has faced questions about his law firm's role in representing Citgo Petroleum Corp., which is ultimately controlled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Washington nemesis. The candidate said he does no lobbying for Citgo.
And, his personal life has drawn headlines.
Judith Nathan Giuliani, the former mayor's third wife, disclosed that she, like him, had been married twice before. And, Giuliani's son from his second marriage went public with the family's estrangement, saying he and his father were trying to reconcile after not speaking "for a decent amount of time."
Giuliani deflected queries about family matters last week, saying: "My personal life gets best measured by my public performance."
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