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Why the '08 race could break the mold

A Clinton-Giuliani contest would pit two socially liberal candidates against each other.

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A year before Election Day, Americans may be heading toward the most unorthodox US presidential race in a generation.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) of New York appears well positioned to become the first woman nominee of a major party. But it is Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who would represent the greater departure for his party, if he were to win the Republican nomination.

Mr. Giuliani's liberal positions on social issues – foremost, abortion and gay rights – put him at odds with the large social conservative wing of the Republican Party. If Giuliani can make it through the primaries, he would be the first Republican nominee to hold such views since President Reagan made opposition to abortion a central feature of Republican doctrine.

Senator Clinton, in contrast, represents mainstream Democratic thought in her policy positions, even if the liberal wing of her party is skeptical of her centrist take on foreign policy – most recent, her vote for a resolution on Iran that opponents say could pave the way for war.

So how is it that Giuliani has defied expectations and remained at the top of national polls of Republican voters this long? Two factors, analysts say.

"The first is 9/11 and number 2 is Hillary Clinton," says John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.

For both parties, toughness has become an essential quality both in fighting wars and in doing battle with the opposition party. And in a campaign where the operating assumption is that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination, Republicans so far are willing to forgive Giuliani his social views if they think he can beat her, says Mr. Pitney.

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