For almost any other candidate, the questions would spell political doom. But Monday in California, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani calmly discussed the damage he did to his children when he divorced his second wife to marry his third.
"The responsibility is mine," Giuliani said, responding to comments his son, Andrew Giuliani, had made to the media about his estranged relationship with his dad. "I believe that these problems with blended families … are challenges. Sometimes they are. And the challenges are best worked on privately," he said.
For now, at least, Giuliani seems coated in political Teflon. Even when the former big-city mayor with liberal views on abortion, gay rights and gun control addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference -- packed with red-meat conservatives -- Friday, he drew loud applause.
After a glowing introduction by columnist and ABC News contributor George F. Will, Giuliani addressed the potential chasm in their views, saying, "You and I have a lot of common beliefs that are the same, and we have some that are different."
And many attendees seemed willing to overlook those differences for one reason -- Giuliani's leadership during and after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"I especially like how he reacted after the 9/11 attacks. I just think he's a very strong leader," said John Porter of Atlanta.
"Rudy and I we go way back," said Geraldine Davie of Springfield, Va., whose daughter, Amy O'Dougherty, died in the attacks. "He was my hero really. [He] helped us all through very difficult times when life here in America and New York was in total chaos."
Pivotal Day Shifts Giuliani's Career
Observers say such feelings are a unique phenomenon, coming from an intense emotional moment after the terrorists struck New York and Washington, D.C.
"Bush was on an airplane, the vice president was in a bunker somewhere," said Ken Auletta of The New Yorker. "Suddenly the person who appears as a leader is the mayor, who says, 'I speak for all Americans.'"
Mitchell Moss, a professor at New York University, said that "Mayor Giuliani is the closest thing we have to a national hero from the war on terror." Moss said Giuliani's "political ideology and his political past positions are no longer going to [be] weighed against him if [he] then looks like the strongest person to fight the war on terror."
In the days before Sept. 11, 2001, the White House seemed to be the last place Giuliani was headed. With racial tensions in New York, his in-your-face style of management, and a messy personal life, he had become a polarizing figure
"On September 10, he had pretty much worn out his welcome with New Yorkers, but that's not what America remembers," said Republican consultant Rich Galen.
And Giuliani hopes they'll keep remembering that something else.
Dennis Powell contributed to this report.