The Note: Rudy Gets Roughed Up

Topping the polls is fun, Rudy, isn't it? You get invited to the best parties, your face graces the cover of magazines, and your mug is on TV even when you're not in your primo seat at Yankee Stadium. Then there's the matter of that big target you grow on your back . . .

Rudolph Giuliani's (R-N.Y.) harsh lesson in leading the pack is continuing going into tomorrow's Republican presidential debate in South Carolina. It's not just abortion, where a fresh round of questions yesterday yielded new potential problems for his campaign. (Will Republicans believe the opinionated ex-mayor doesn't have an opinion as to when life begins?)

It's not just his consulting business, which earned $100 million in five years but also brought the former Gotham mayor into contact with a gallery of comic-book villains, according to The Washington Post. (How long can he keep his client list secret?) It's not just his personal life, with his three marriages, including his current one to Judith Nathan, who gets the New York magazine scrub the campaign had to know was coming. (They met in a cigar bar -- very "Sex and the City.")

Now come new details of Giuliani's signature moment -- 9/11 -- and they aren't flattering. The New York Times' Anthony DePalma today examines Hizzoner's possible culpability in the respiratory problems suffered by Ground Zero workers. DePalma reports that, in sidelining federal agencies and barreling ahead with cleanup without regard to safety rules, "Mr. Giuliani might have allowed his sense of purpose to trump caution in the rush to prove that his city was not crippled by the attack." LINK

On the Democratic side, front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is largely staying out of the news. But Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) used the first Sunday-morning interview of his candidacy to cling to middle ground on ABC's "This Week," touting his ability to "build consensus around hard problems." That extends to Iraq, where he's resisting pressure from former sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) to rule out compromise, despite the fact that Obama urged Congress to vote against war funding as a Senate candidate in 2003. Instead, Obama is intensifying his push to get Republican senators to support a troop withdrawal with a new Web campaign. "We can do it in a way that doesn't play games with our troops on the ground," Obama said. LINK

And since it wouldn't be a weekend in this fluid race without noise from a shadow candidate, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) left more than a little room for the possibility that he could join Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-N.Y.) on an independent ticket in 2008. "It's a great country to think about -- a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this nation," Hagel said on CBS' "Face the Nation." LINK

You couldn't escape the 2008ers if you owned a television yesterday -- including Giuliani and Obama, four of the Big Six made a Sunday show appearance. A full wrap-up: LINK

The Giuliani file:

The Washington Post's John Solomon and Matthew Mosk reported Sunday that Giuliani's consulting firm has raked in $100 million. He's still not revealing his client list, but the story notes that his partners have included "a former police commissioner later convicted of corruption, a former FBI executive who admitted taking artifacts from Ground Zero and a former Roman Catholic priest accused of covering up sexual abuse in the church." LINK

In a Fox News interview yesterday, Giuliani continued to explain his support for abortion rights, saying he "might be able to" nominate an abortion-rights opponent, though he also said, "What I am not open to is removing the right" to abortion. That clear? And there's this: "I can't decide when life begins," Giuliani said. LINK

Lloyd Grove of New York magazine reveals the hush-hush scene whereby a then-married Giuliani met his third wife in 1999: The scene went down at a Manhattan cigar bar, Club Macanudo. In profiling Nathan, Grove writes: "Theirs is a very New York love story, complicated and, frankly, mature. It's hard to say how it'll play in the red states." LINK

Giuliani still hasn't decided whether to compete in this summer's Iowa Republican Party straw poll, per Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register. LINK

More weekend fare:

Patrick Healy of The New York Times sees Bill Clinton as his wife's "master strategist," "consigliere," and "fund-raising machine" -- and has campaign advisers saying they'll eventually dispatch him on his own campaign plane, complete with his own press corps. What does it say about the campaign hierarchy that a "senior campaign adviser" calls the candidate "Hillary" and her husband "the president?" LINK

Sen. Clinton's "conversation" is going wireless, with a new text-messaging campaign she's launching today in Albany. She hit New Hampshire over the weekend, and seems to have developed a new line that sounds an awful lot like one of Obama's old ones. "People are anxious to turn the page," she said. LINK

Compare: LINK

With Clinton raising money in Chicago today, an interesting schism has emerged in Chicago's wealthy Pritzker family -- a brother with Clinton, and a sister with Obama, reports John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune. LINK

The Washington Post's editorial page has (mostly) praise for Sen. Christopher Dodd's (D-Conn.) proposed tax on carbon emissions. LINK

The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan looks at the potent force of younger voters, with the growth of "an antiwar movement among youth, at the same time that a smaller portion of conservative young people is looking for a candidate who can defeat Al Qaeda elements in Iraq." LINK

Another tidbit from Obama's "This Week" interview: the candidate said he'd be open to rolling back tax cuts for the rich to expand healthcare, and said "everything should be on the table" when it comes to reforming Social Security. Among the options worth considering, he specifically included raising the retirement age and increasing taxes (but not privatization). It's an admirable open-mindedness that fits Obama's image as a political fence-mender, but such stances have seldom done Democrats favors in past primaries. (Remember Joe Lieberman's 2004 campaign? Neither do we.)

Also worth tracking:

President Bush, who gets to say goodbye to Tony Blair in person in Washington this week, has approved direct US talks with Iran as he struggles to find a solution -- and keep the Republican Party together -- on Iraq. LINK

Meanwhile, the great immigration debate -- the sequel -- kicks off in the Senate. Can the president work with the Democratic Congress to salvage a domestic-policy victory? Early signs aren't promising.

The kicker:

"Why don't you go f--- yourself?" Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), informing a Politico reporter that, no, he wasn't welcome to attend a private meeting about a bill to promote openness and disclosure in Congress. LINK

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