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Giuliani Seeks Votes One Plate at a Time

Friday, November 23, 2007

By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writer

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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — 

Heavy on the calories, light on the substance and garnished with a touch of rhetoric _ that's how Rudy Giuliani prefers to campaign when he's on the road.

Mostly shunning the policy-laden town hall settings favored by many of his rivals, the former New York mayor and Republican presidential candidate has opted instead to drop by popular eateries. He shakes some hands, compliments the chef, maybe makes a few remarks and then gets down to business, sampling the local fare with true gusto.

From a lobster shack on the coast of New Hampshire to a South Philadelphia cheesesteak stand to a barbecue joint in Oklahoma City, no culinary landmark is too obscure for the Giuliani campaign schedule.

But it's the all-American diner that is Giuliani's preferred campaign venue.

He wolfed down a cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato at the Ocean Bay Diner on the Jersey Shore after decrying "Islamic terrorists." He tucked into cheese-steak, sausage and meatball sandwiches at a diner in Tulsa, Okla., then boasted of reducing crime in New York. At Peter's Grill in Minneapolis, Minn., he spoke darkly of "a Democratic plan to get us as close to socialized medicine as they can," but passed up the menu's "President Clinton Special" _ Canadian bacon with egg sandwich on pumpernickel with vegetable soup, apple pie and a Diet Coke, commemorating a 1995 visit by then President Bill Clinton.

"I like to eat. I love diners. I got a great New York bagel here," Giuliani told reporters on a recent Sunday morning at a Portsmouth diner, even though every New Yorker knows real bagels do not exist outside the city's five boroughs. "The gentleman kept telling me he wanted me to try the New York bagel. It was terrific."

The diner tour lets Giuliani play to his popularity and celebrity. Wandering through crowded diners and moving quickly from one table to the next, Giuliani scribbles autographs onto campaign literature and baseballs. He pauses for a moment _ seldom introducing himself _ and then scurries to the next table.

It also lets him avoid tough questions in favor of bagels. And salsa. And omelets. And fried clams. And diet soda.

On a recent trip to Council Bluffs, Iowa, he arrived at the Village Inn restaurant as TV cameras rolled and cameras clicked. He swiftly moved from one table to the next, rarely looking people in the eye. He didn't introduce himself. He didn't ask for votes. He didn't talk policies.

The most he uttered were impersonal phrases like "Nice to see you" and "How you doing?" and "Nice to be here" and "Take care." He also remarked on the food: "That looks really good," he said to a woman with a plate of eggs. "I already ate breakfast."

Giuliani's diner drop-bys are designed largely to get his much-recognized face on local television, especially in early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

"He's going to walk through and shake some hands and we're going to have him sit down and have a cup of coffee at that table," an aide in Iowa told reporters gathered to watch the scene repeat itself. "You're welcome to shoot some b-roll," television lingo for supplementary video.

It was Giuliani's only public event in Iowa that day.

Giuliani's public schedule is often like that _ stops at diners and other eateries sandwiched around private fundraisers or other meetings. During a recent weekend trip to New Hampshire, Giuliani and his wife Judith picked out pumpkins and gourds, bought snacks and joked about crafts in Hollis. They didn't speak to reporters or answer any tough questions at the event. She held babies, he signed their baby bottles and the couple posed together for pictures.

"You like my pumpkin ring?" Judith Giuliani asked a young girl while waiting in line to buy salsa and grapes. "When you push it, it lights up. But I think the battery is dead by now."

The marathon "meet-and-greets" have crowded typically busy diners with a crush of reporters and campaign aides.

At the Portsmouth diner, where customers wondered why there were television crews and people in suits milling about in the parking lot, the tone was pure annoyance.

"Hey," Portsmouth resident Bryan Pappas called to a waitress. "Can you ask that cameraman to get me a cup of coffee?"

Such schedules can be hard on the arteries, too. In Portsmouth, Judith Giuliani ordered for the couple: egg-white omelets with Diet Cokes. But that doesn't always work. During a drop-by at a popular Houston breakfast restaurant, for example, the White House hopeful noted the fruit plates he and his tablemates had been provided, then helped himself to several pieces of sausage, leaving the fruit untouched.

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Associated Press Writer Liz Sidoti in Council Bluffs, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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