If it wasn't for the 77-degree temperatures, Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign swing through here Thursday could have been confused for a hometown stop. The former New York mayor and Republican candidate was greeted by a crowd of about 150 people outside a Jewish deli, and most were either New York transplants or snowbirds wintering in Palm Beach County.
Many rushed toward his car when he arrived at Lox Around the Clock and greeted him with thick New York accents. "I live down here now, but I'm a New Yorker," one woman told him before snapping his picture.
Giuliani was given the celebrity treatment, but many who came to see him weren't registered to vote in Florida, a state that's receiving a lot of attention from White House hopefuls as lawmakers talk about pushing up the presidential primary.
"You don't know what you did for New York, you just don't know," said Michelle Landa, a retired New York teacher who spends about a month each winter in Boynton Beach. She praised his role leading the city after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"He was the voice of comfort for us during 9-11. It was just his face. Every time you would see him, you would just kind of feel a peace, that it's going to be OK," Landa said later. "He pulled us through more than he will ever know."
Paul Barsukov, who spends six months a year in Delray Beach, is registered to vote in Florida, but as an independent, which won't help Giuliani in a primary that could be tough for him in conservative states.
Wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap, Barsukov was the first to greet Giuliani.
"If he could he do for the country what he did for New York - his leadership abilities are tremendous," said Barsukov, who acknowledged that Giuliani's challenge is winning over conservatives. "He's very middle of the road, and if you get the conservative right - the religious right, the red states - that could be his downfall."
Sunshine State crowded with campaigners
Giuliani was the fourth major presidential candidate in six days to campaign in Florida. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, addressed a crowd of 750 people on Friday in The Villages, a central Florida retirement community; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took questions Monday from a two groups totaling nearly 1,800 people in Vero Beach; and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., held a community meeting in a black Miami neighborhood Tuesday.
After shaking hands and posing for pictures, Giuliani attended a $2,300 per person fundraiser at a private home.
The focus on Florida comes as lawmakers consider moving up the presidential primary so the state can have more say in the eventual nominees. A bill moving through the Legislature would set the primary at seven days after New Hampshire's or Feb. 5, whichever comes first.
"Florida's going to get a lot of attention no matter what. Everybody remembers the 2000 election," Giuliani said, referring to disputed election President Bush won by 537 votes. "The idea that you're going to move up the primary obviously makes it even more important."
Earlier Thursday, Gov. Charlie Crist noted that the idea is getting more attention for Florida.
"It's a great idea that puts more focus on our state and gives Florida a more pivotal role as it relates to the next president," Crist said, adding that he hopes it forces candidates to talk about issues important to the state, such as the creation of a national insurance catastrophe fund.
"That's the kind of question that I would have for any candidate running for president," Crist said. "I want to make sure that the those that are running for president know how important it is to our people."
Giuliani said he understands.
"The idea of spreading out the risk, because everybody in the country faces this risk ... is a very, very good idea," Giuliani said. "I talked briefly to Gov. Crist about it when he was a candidate, but it seems to me that it's an idea that's worth pursuing."