FARGO, N.D. – A New Yorker in ... North Dakota?
That was the scene in Fargo on Wednesday as Rudy Giuliani touched down, claiming the distinction of being the first Republican presidential candidate to visit this year.
The former New York mayor says North Dakota has a big role to play in helping him win the Republican nomination.
Unlike in recent presidential contests, the state will vote early next year, on Feb. 5, the same day more than 20 other states will hold their nominating contests.
"To get elected, I need your support. And North Dakota can play a big role," Giuliani said during a brief stop to raise money. "You have what is now considered an early caucus on a very big day.
"Believe me, every one of those votes count," he said. "We know how close the elections become."
The state's Republican and Democratic caucuses are set for Feb. 5. In 2000, the Republican caucus was held on Feb. 29, later than most states, and the 2004 event had little drama since President Bush was running for re-election.
About 125 people attended the luncheon, most of whom paid a minimum of $250 a plate for sandwiches and a chance to have their pictures taken with Giuliani.
Giuliani highlighted three issues in his 30-minute speech, which he opened by discussing the threat of terrorism and closed by talking about ending the country's dependence on foreign oil and stopping illegal immigration.
He did not mention agriculture until reporters asked about it during a five-minute press briefing. Giuliani said farm policy should level the playing field with other countries and provide control over the food supply "so we don't end up in the agriculture area where we are in energy."
"But the reality is that the soundness of our economy and the safety and protection of the United States are the overriding issues," Giuliani said. "They unite us as people."
Jamie Selzler, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic party, said he was glad Giuliani stopped in the state but was disappointed the event was not open to the public.
"Rudy Giuliani should come here and talk about what he can do for North Dakota," Selzler said. "It appears he's doing the same thing he always does, which is invoking the fear of terrorism in people."
Giuliani said he has the best chance of winning the nomination because he is running a 50-state campaign. He said rival candidates likely would shut down offices in such typical Democratic strongholds as New York, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Oregon and Washington.
"They're going to do it because they have to, and it's probably the best strategy," Giuliani said. "Because they don't have a chance of winning the states I'm talking about.
"The states that I'm talking about are all states that I have a chance of winning," he said. "I don't say that I can win them all. You never win them all. But I do say that I can be competitive in all."