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Giulianai rallies California Republicans

Peter Hecht
McClatchy Newspapers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, speaking openly of "the kind of president I will want to be," rallied California Republicans on Saturday with praise for President Bush and a declaration that victory over terrorism is "the great moral issue of our time."

Giuliani, who earned renown for his leadership after the World Trade Center attacks, drew loud cheers from delegates at the California Republican Party convention by evoking the courage of rescue workers on Sept. 11, 2001 and calling for new resolve in the war on terror.

Giuliani never formally announced he was running for president, yet concluded his speech by saying: "You get to decide who that leader is going to be. I wish you would decide on me."

His much anticipated appearance at the convention at the Sacramento Hyatt Regency came as California political leaders are contemplating moving the state's presidential primary up to February - potentially supercharging the Golden State's clout in the race for the White House.

It also came as another telegenic candidate, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, formally announced his bid for president in Springfield, Ill. and the leading Democratic contender, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, hit the campaign trail in New Hampshire.

The three settings offered contrasts in the nation's pointed debate over the war in Iraq.

In Sacramento, Giuliani defended President Bush as a courageous figure in the fight against terror. And, meeting reporters after his speech, he strongly dismissed any discussion of a military pullout in Iraq.

"I think in a time of war, you don't talk about pulling out," said Giuliani, who didn't take a position on the president's recent call to increase forces in Iraq. "The worst casualties occur usually with retreating armies. I don't know if it is productive to talk about timetables and pulling out. You just create more jeopardy for our troops."

His remarks conflicted with Obama, who vowed to end the war, declaring: "It's time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war."

Meanwhile, Sen. Clinton, facing sharp questions in New Hampshire over her vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq, acknowledged "a great deal of frustration and anger and outrage" over the war.

In Sacramento, Giuliani told reporters that Bush will have "a very, very strong place in history.

"President Bush made the decision to reverse the politics of the past. Where we had been on defense against terrorism, he goes on the offense . . . We are going to see that as having been a very wise, very brave decision that kept America safe."

In his speech, Giuliani attacked the debate in Congress over a non-binding resolution opposing the troop increase in Iraq. He added: "Presidents can't do non-binding resolutions. Presidents have to make decisions and move the country forward and that's the kind of president I will want to be."

There was an air of excitement in the convention ballroom as supporters waved "We Love Rudy" signs and gave him multiple standing ovations.

At one point, as Giuliani declared, "I am an optimist. I am never going to be anything but an optimist," someone shouted from the crowd: "President!"

That elicited more applause.

Asked by a reporter when he would formally announce his candidacy, Giuliani quipped: "If you go back to my speech, I think I may have. I'm not sure."

On Monday, Giuliani filed a "statement of candidacy" with the Federal Election Commission, but his campaign has said a formal announcement will come later.

Giuliani said Saturday: "Yes, I am committed. I believe I can bring something from the experience I've had . . . Nobody is ever prepared to be president of the United States. But I think if there is a job that would prepare you for it, I think it would be the job of mayor of New York."

Outgoing state Republican Party chairman Duf Sundheim praised Giuliani in an introduction Saturday giving Americans hope after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"One of the last images of that terrible, terrible day is the strength, the leadership and the compassion that was embodied in one man," he said.

Sundheim said in an interview he is surprised by Giuliani's lure among many conservative Republicans despite having supported abortion rights, gun control and gay rights - things that normally would be affronts to hard-line party activists.

"They perceive him as a strong leader," Sundheim said. "And people have repeatedly said to me, `Look, if it comes down to whether I'm going to get blown up or whether I get my way on a social issue, I want to be around. I need a strong leader that's going to protect me.'"

State GOP delegate Jim Palmer, a City Council member from Tustin, Calif., said Giuliani's social views - not to mention his two divorces - won't fly with the party faithful.

"I don't think his values are lining up too well with our values as Republicans," said Palmer, who supports former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the GOP's presidential hopeful. "I think Rudy, with his lifestyle, brings a lot of baggage that will need to be addressed."

Delegate Marvin Jones, a retired aerospace worker, said Giuliani is his man even if he disagrees with him on some social issues.

"He has been in the cauldron," Jones said. "He has been there in the worst of situations. It gives you a certain amount of confidence of what he will do when something needs to be done."

Giuliani repeatedly praised Republican icon Ronald Reagan in his speech, drawing parallels to the clash of ideas in the war on terror to the fight against communism. And he drew the crowd back to Sept. 11.

"Anytime I felt down that day, all I had to do is look at my firefighters and police officers and rescue workers," he said. "I saw in their eyes . . . their determination. They were the children and grandchildren of those who fought and died to protect us in the Second World War, in Korea and so many other places.

"This is our American spirit . . . We're going to prevail over terrorism because people who live in freedom . . . know not only what they have to die for but what they have to live for."

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