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updated 11/7/2007 6:35:58 PM ET 2007-11-07T23:35:58
ON THE TRAIL

Republican Rudy Giuliani's been on a knife's edge for months, downplaying his socially moderate positions to social conservatives while boasting of his blue-state credentials to national audiences.

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Meanwhile, John Edwards continues to push his red-state appeal while simultaneously moving to the left of front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Can they succeed? Or will the electoral map confine them? There may be some clues in the roles they played in the '07 elections.

Giuliani actively stumped for blue-state Republicans this year in places like New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire -- places where President Bush wouldn't go, and didn't get many invitations, either.

But can Giuliani really hope to win these states? It helps to be the next-door neighbor, of course. But without much polling taken thus far, we see something of a mixed bag. The most recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll [PDF] of New Jersey voters (conducted Oct. 18 through Oct. 23) tested a number of hypothetical general election matchups. The survey showed Clinton up 10 points over the former New York City mayor, while Giuliani tied Barack Obama. A September Quinnipiac poll showed Giuliani and Clinton tied at 44 percent, but Giuliani beat Edwards by 11 points (50 percent to 39 percent) and was ahead of Obama by 9 points (49 percent to 40 percent).

The most recent survey of New Yorkers, a Quinnipiac poll conducted Oct. 9 through Oct. 15, tested only Clinton and Giuliani. In that poll, Clinton was ahead of Giuliani by 14 points (50 percent to 36 percent).

But winning the electoral votes isn't necessarily Giuliani's goal. Instead, it's to soothe nervous Republicans in swing districts who have spent the last election cycle trying to detach themselves as much as possible from the national party. There's little doubt that Democrats will work hard to tie Giuliani as closely to an unpopular president and war as possible. And Giuliani's detractors (John McCain's camp, for instance) argue that he will actually be less competitive in traditionally red/purple states. But the fact that Giuliani starts off being competitive is impressive in a state like New Jersey, where Bush's approval rating is at 27 percent.

So, did Giuliani's endorsements pay off for local Republicans? One of the few bright spots for the GOP in New Jersey last night was in exurban Monmouth County, where a state Senate candidate Giuliani had stumped for defeated the Democratic incumbent. Overall, however, it's unclear how helpful Giuliani's efforts were. In New York, of the eight candidates he endorsed, just three won.

Giuliani's blue-state stumping stood in contrast to Democrats who didn't make much of an effort for Virginia Democrats, even as the prospect of taking control of the state Senate was a very real one -- and ultimately turned out to come to fruition. Wouldn't this have been a good opportunity for Edwards to make his case that Democrats in red states are happy to stump with him?

Instead, the lack of attention from White House candidates reinforces the perception that Democratic victories in these reddish states come not because voters are choosing Democrats but because they are rejecting Republicans. In swing districts, running against Bush can still be effective in 2007. But that doesn't address the question of what happens once Democrats have to answer for their own nominee instead of simply lobbing attacks at the GOP standard-bearer.

As much as '06 was referendum for change, it was really an election driven by frustration -- about the war, scandal and a Congress that seemed unable to get anything done. Today, voters are demanding accountability, not just change. In fact, the New York Times noted on Tuesday that bread-and-butter issues like taxes, health care financing and land use, not social issues like gay marriage, dominate ballot measures this year -- a response, it seems, to a growing sense that Washington and state capitols aren't addressing the issues voters find most critical to their day-to-day lives.

However, the fact that so many of these spending initiatives (most of which were sponsored by legislatures) were defeated also suggests a public unwilling to trust government to spend its money wisely, even on projects voters may think of as worthy.

For Democrats, then, a "time for change" message can only get them so far. Successful candidates in 2008 are the ones who can portray themselves as not just an agent of change, but a genuine deliverer of that change.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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