Forbes stumps for Giuliani in area


Steve Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine, is shown in The Gainesville Sun studio Tuesday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Breezing through Gainesville to stump for his favored presidential candidate, former White House hopeful Steve Forbes said he was unfazed by polls that show Rudy Giuliani's lead slipping in Florida.

"The polls are snapshots," says Forbes, who serves as national campaign chair and senior policy adviser for the former New York City mayor. "They make assumptions...We've seen this (race) is going all over the place. The furniture is moving all over the place, so you say I'm going to decorate the room this way but you don't know what you're going to have 24 hours from now."

If Forbes' decorating analogy is extended, however, the latest figures show more Floridians sprucing up their homes with John McCain stickers than Giuliani signs. The Arizona senator, and rival to Giuliani for the Republican nomination, is riding a bounce from his victory in the New Hampshire primary. McCain, whose presidential aspirations seemed all but dashed months ago, has the backing of 22 percent of likely Republican primary voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week. That's a 9 point leap for McCain, and Giuliani's 20 percent showing is an 8 percentage point drop.

The poll shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tied with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 19 percent each.

Forbes, editor in chief of Forbes magazine and a presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, had some choice words for Giuliani's rivals in his interview with The Sun. He calls Romney's tax plan "tepid tea," compared with Giuliani's. As for McCain, Forbes suggests the former prisoner of war's experience is lacking.

"To be blunt about it, Sen. McCain, it's very easy to hold a hearing," Forbes said. "But that's very different from responding to a crisis and running a major governmental department or a major government (like New York)."

Forbes says he believes the unveiling of Giuliani's new tax plan in Melbourne earlier this month is generating excitement among voters. With an option allowing taxpayers to boil down their returns to one page, Giuliani's proposal speaks to Forbes' passion of simplifying the code.

When Forbes ran for president, he was a promoter of the flat tax. The tax proposal promised simplification by creating a single tax rate instead of several based on income. The plan drew critics, however, who charged it would unfairly benefit higher-income Americans.

During a 1996 appearance on CNN's Capital Gang, Giuliani called the flat tax proposal a "terrible mistake." The former mayor has since softened his opposition, however, saying a flat tax "makes a lot of sense" when Forbes gave his endorsement in March, The New York Times reported.

"It's not my pure flat tax, but it is light years ahead of anyone else," said Forbes in describing Giuliani's plan. "(It) greatly simplifies the tax code, reduces the tax burden on both the individuals and businesses."

The flat tax isn't the only area where Giuliani and Forbes have had some daylight between their views. As a presidential candidate, Forbes ran on an anti-abortion platform. Giuliani, on the other hand, has histrionically supported abortion rights - while still pledging to appoint strict constructionist judges who would presumably rule against his own position.

"I'm pro life and he's pro choice, so there is a disagreement," Forbes said. "But we don't have a disagreement on the need to get these issues back in the public square and out of the hands of unelected judges."

Giuliani has staked his campaign on a strategy that's untested in presidential politics. He barely campaigned in the opening contests of Iowa and New Hampshire, banking on later states like Florida, where the primary will take place Jan. 29. A positive showing in Florida - Forbes says winning or "close to winning" is crucial - could position Giuliani to do well on "Tsunami Tuesday," the Feb. 5 showdown in more than 20 states.

"I think Rudy's emphasis in Florida is going to pay off," Forbes said.

Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.

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