Home-State Haters

GOP candidates feeling heat from own backyards

Dec. 12, 2007 — -- As former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani crisscrosses the country in his presidential bid, small klatches of New York City firefighters and 9/11 victims' families have set up outside some of his events, ready to tell tales of the "real Rudy."

When Mitt Romney's rivals need to counter a claim about his record, they can turn to Romney's two immediate GOP predecessors as governor of Massachusetts -- both of whom have emerged as outspoken Romney critics.

And as reporters comb through Mike Huckabee's record as governor, they're finding no shortage of Arkansas-based conservative voices to blast him on taxes, immigration, leniency for convicted criminals.

Candidates cannot mount a serious bid for the presidency without leaving a political record that has earned them enemies. But to a remarkable -- and politically perilous -- extent, several major GOP presidential candidates are seeing some of their fiercest critics emerge from their own backyards.

Political Enemies

"This is potentially very difficult to overcome," said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant who is not aligned with any of the 2008 presidential contenders.

"You can't be in public life and make critical decisions without inevitably making some enemies," Ayres continued. "Whether it amounts to a fatal failing depends upon the criticism. But anytime there's home-state criticism, it's always deemed to be more credible."

The home-state sniping seems particularly intense for the three Republican candidates, whose campaigns are based on their executive experience.

Unlike the senators and former senators running for president, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee oversaw vast executive bureaucracies, giving them wide agenda-setting and policy-making authority. That meant plenty of opportunities to make enemies in their home jurisdictions.

Giuliani's feud with New York City firefighters has perhaps been most widely publicized. It's a fight with roots in difficult contract negotiations during Giuliani's time as mayor, and anger at the former mayor crystallized over his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Firefighters Attack

Firefighters have accused him of failing to have the proper communications equipment in place, in addition to failing to heed warnings about placing the city's emergency command center in the World Trade Center and rushing the cleanup job without adequate consideration of the need to locate and preserve human remains.

Giuliani and his backers say the feud amounts to partisan politics, though the campaign did not specifically respond to requests for comment.

Jim Riches, a deputy chief with the New York Fire Department who lost a son on 9/11, said New York firefighters are moving toward organizing an independent expenditure group -- known as a 527 organization -- to run anti-Giuliani ads in key states.

"New Yorkers know plenty about him -- we know he's arrogant, confrontational, antagonistic," Riches said. "When America gets to see what he's really like, when they get to know him like New Yorkers know him personally, he'll implode."

'Flip-Flopper'

In Massachusetts, Paul Cellucci -- the state's GOP governor from 1997 through 2001 -- is a Giuliani supporter who has been enlisted frequently by the campaign to call Romney's fiscal record into question.

Cellucci's successor, Jane Swift, is supporting Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Swift wrote an op-ed Tuesday in the New Hampshire Union Leader warning that if Republicans nominate Romney for president, Democrats will portray him as a flip-flopper in the general election.

"Today, Mitt Romney is campaigning on his record as governor; yet he has become unrecognizable to the citizens who voted him into office," Swift wrote.

Swift campaigns for McCain in New Hampshire Wednesday, holding a press conference and meeting with Republican women's groups in the state.

Questionable Pardons

And in Arkansas, numerous Huckabee critics have emerged to call into question his record of issuing commutations and pardons.

Others have joined forces with national anti-tax groups to portray Huckabee as a social liberal, because of tax-raising steps he took as governor in efforts to balance the budget.

"I don't think Mike Huckabee is a fiscal conservative," said Jackson T. "Steve" Stephens Jr., a Republican who was vice chairman of an Arkansas government-reform commission initiated in 1996.

"I can just go up and down state government, and what I can tell you is that rather than choose reforms that would have streamlined state government and saved the taxpayers money, Mike Huckabee chose to raise taxes," Stephens said.

Fred Siegel, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and a Giuliani biographer, said Huckabee, Romney and Giuliani are all products of hyper-political states with heavy Democratic presences. That means they all were forced into concessions that Republican senators, for example, don't have to make.

"These are hotbed political states, and that means highly organized groups with disciplined agendas are in place to oppose you," Siegel said.

Ron Kaufman, a veteran political operative who is advising Romney, said any executives who do their job are going to make political enemies. In the case of Cellucci and Swift opposing Romney, Kaufman said they are angry that Romney made good on his pledge to root out patronage jobs in state government.

Political Payback

"When Mitt ran for governor, he said he would change the way business is done on Beacon Hill, and change the way patronage is done in Massachusetts," Kaufman said. "That meant he was running not only against the Democrats in Massachusetts but against the Republicans who had been governor before. There's a lot of hard feelings about that. There's an old political saying: payback's a bitch."

Kaufman, a Massachusetts native who was a political supporter of both Cellucci and Swift, also noted that Romney's return from the Salt Lake Olympics to run for governor in 2002 elbowed Swift out of the race.

"Jane Swift is a good person. But when you read what she wrote, you have to understand one thing: She was forced out of the race because the governor came back to Massachusetts," he said.

But others in Massachusetts say the resentment runs deeper than that. Brian Lees, who was Senate Republican leader during Romney's four years as governor, said many in the state's GOP circles quickly realized that Romney was more interested in advancing his national ambitions than in working with state lawmakers to get business done.

"It was clear after the first six months with Romney, there was no interest with building the party, no interest in the base that got him elected, and no interest in activist Republicans," Lees said. "It was all his friends from before he ran for office, and no one else."

Ayres, the unaffiliated GOP strategist, said the complicated political pasts of the candidates are fair game -- and are unavoidable for the mayor and the governors who would be president.

"People in executive positions can't take a walk," he said. "It's all part of the mosaic that makes up the picture of a candidate."

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