As candidates blanket Iowa and New Hampshire, visiting diners and chatting with the real people of the heartland, Rudy Giuliani took such retail campaigning to Santa Monica today.
As he has done a few times this year in Southern California, he dropped in on a diner, this time The Counter on Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica.
The purpose was some honest to goodness campaigning, or at least the L.A. version of spontaneous interaction. While plenty of candidates raise money all over Southern California, the area isn’t your typical place for Republican stumping: The city, once dubbed "People’s Republic of Santa Monica," is heavily left-leaning, and once even had a Green Party majority on the City Council.
At 2 p.m., when the lunch rush is usually winding down, the restaurant was packed with media and Giuliani supporters, even a celebrity like Kerry Washington (who also was at the Obama event last night). One woman, in a big black hat, wore a "I (HEART) You Rudy" T-shirt. The crowd, of course, was no coincidence, and a Giuliani advance staffer feverishly checked her Blackberry while waiting for his SUV to show.
Giuliani shook hands as he made his way to a bank of microphones, perched right up against a table where Randi Kaplan, a homemaker from Santa Monica, was munching on a hamburger and cheese fries with her curly haired two-year-old toddler, Donald.
"What do you have there?" Giuliani said to the boy. Donald looked up and stared. The former New York mayor smiled and said, "I think I’ll get a hamburger to go."
Giuliani then went to the bank of microphones and said that he was "here to remind people that there’s a Feb. 5 primary." Perhaps more than any other candidate, Giuliani is putting emphasis on winning some of the big states on that day as a firewall in case he loses the earlier voting states.
And before he took questions, he also made a statement about the National Intelligence Estimate released last week that showed Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
"It seems that the most honoest impression (of the NIE) is that pressure works," Giuliani said. "It shows Iran is susceptible to heavy pressure…It underscores the need for a strong position on Iran, not a weak position as the Democrats have."
And wearing a striped red tie and flag lapel pin, he appeared to give support to Bush’s approach. He said that President Bush "speaks from a position of strength in regards to Iran."
Perhaps emboldened by an appearance at Mel’s Drive-In, in the even more liberal San Francisco, Giuliani brought up his call for a cut in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% as a way to boost job growth. According to the San Jose Mercury News, when Giuliani mentioned the idea at Mel’s, "the crowd roared."
Giuliani says that he’s been calling for the tax cuts for several weeks, but "I think mentioning it in San Francisco got more attention" from the press.
But Kaplan, who came because she knew he was going to pay a visit to the restaurant, said that she’s backing him not because of his stance on a specific issue but because of his response to 9/11. A former New Yorker, she said, "I feel like it was a real test of his leadership ability."
During Giuliani’s 15 or so minutes in the diner, the only negative reaction was not by any Democrat who happened to stumble in, but by a passerby who shouted through the window, "Ron Paul."
A note: An earlier version of this post mentioned that Orson Bean was there. In fact, it was a gentleman who looked like Orson Bean, and even politely responded to questions. Coincidentally, Andrew Brietbart, who is Orson Bean’s son-in-law, was at the event, and says that even though Bean was not there, he is a supporter of Giuliani.