With his campaign hitting a rocky patch just before the first votes are cast, Rudolph W. Giuliani is returning to the themes that transformed him from a lame-duck mayor of New York City to a popular national figure six years ago and eventually to a leading presidential candidate: the Sept. 11 attacks and the threats posed by terrorism.
Mr. Giuliani’s retooled stump speech compares the Sept. 11 generation to the generation that won World War II. He is running a new television advertisement that shows firefighters atop the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center site. And this week, Mr. Giuliani, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, seized on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the suicide bombing in Pakistan to warn audiences that it “reminds us of the kind of world that we live in.”
'Particularly personal experience'
“For me this is a particularly personal experience,” Mr. Giuliani said in Florida as he discussed the assassination of Ms. Bhutto on Thursday, “because I lived through Sept. 11, 2001, and then I lived through the attacks in London a few years later.”
Mr. Giuliani’s decision to return to the issues of Sept. 11 and terrorism before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 comes after months in which his campaign sometimes seemed to struggle to try to find a way to talk about the attacks without seeming exploitative, while broadening his message to fight the impression that he is a single-issue candidate.
Sensitive to criticisms like one Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, leveled — that for Mr. Giuliani a sentence was “a noun and a verb and 9/11” — the campaign worked to show other dimensions. Over the summer and fall he made policy proposals, talked about his record as mayor of New York City, and reached further into his biography to highlight his career in the Justice Department in the 1970s and 1980s. For months, he was more likely to talk about supply-siders than suicide bombers.
Now, though, as Mr. Giuliani’s standing in the polls has slipped and he risks being sidelined by his decision not to compete fully in the Iowa caucuses, his campaign is returning to his signature issue. The shift began this month when he retooled his stump speech in Florida, with more references to Sept. 11 than usual. A campaign video shown on the Internet and at rallies includes an image of two terrorists in head scarves with guns. And he is running a minute-long advertisement focusing on Sept. 11.
“It is part of my life,” Mr. Giuliani said this week about the advertisement. “It is part of my life that helps to define me. It isn’t the only part of my life. But it would seem to me that maybe the critics want you to, like, remove a part of your life in which people have every right to draw judgments about how you would handle a crisis, how you would handle a difficult situation, how you would handle terrorism.”
The Bhutto assassination offered Mr. Giuliani a chance to appear on several news programs to talk about something other than the uncomfortable subjects that have dogged him recently, including the indictment of his former police commissioner in New York, Bernard B. Kerik, and the health scare that landed him in a St. Louis hospital last week.
But the renewed focus on Sept. 11 comes as Mr. Giuliani’s Republican opponents are more willing to challenge his argument that his experience after Sept. 11 gives him special insight on terrorism.
Senator John McCain of Arizona questioned how Mr. Giuliani’s performance after Sept. 11, which he always praises, is related to foreign policy, and noted that Mr. Giuliani had yet to visit Iraq. “It has very little to do with national security issues,” Mr. McCain said in Iowa. “It has a lot to do with handling a postcrisis.”
Decidedly faint praise
And Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, offered some decidedly faint praise. “With regards to Mayor Giuliani, Mayor Giuliani was mayor, I think, for a couple of months after 9/11,” Mr. Romney said this week. “About three months after 9/11, and he did a fine job in responding to the tragedy that occurred on 9/11.”
Some polls suggest that Mr. Giuliani may not have a decisive advantage on the issue of terrorism. In a New York Times/CBS News poll in September, Mr. Giuliani’s supporters were asked if they thought he would do a better job fighting terrorism compared with the other candidates running for the Republican nomination. A quarter of them said they thought Mr. Giuliani would do a better job than his opponents, but the large majority — 61 percent — said they would expect Mr. Giuliani to be about the same as the other candidates when it came to fighting terrorism.
But the Giuliani campaign is clearly hoping that news coverage of the chaos in Pakistan will refocus attention on the threat of terrorism, which it thinks is a strong issue for Mr. Giuliani but which has receded in recent polls of voters’ top concerns.
“I think we have to talk about it,” Mr. Giuliani replied when questioned this week about why the public did not take the threat of terrorism more seriously. “Look, it’s just human and natural as you move further away from these situations, even something that’s as horrifying as Sept. 11, 2001, that people involved in it, and emotions about it maybe, maybe recede.” He added: “But the reality is that this is something that we have to think about because this is not a matter of our choice. This is a matter of our protecting ourselves against existential threats.”
The message resonated with Dwight Guthrie, 54, a real estate agent here, who said he had supported Mr. Giuliani since seeing him in action in 2001.
“I feel too many Americans have forgotten too soon,” Mr. Guthrie said, “what happened to 2,000-plus people who just wanted to go to work that day.”
Marjorie Connelly contributed reporting from New York, Michael Luo from Urbandale, Iowa, and Marc Santora from Manchester, N.H.