Giuliani takes first step towards 2008 presidential race

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The Independent US

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who achieved almost mythic status for his handling of the 2001 terror attacks at the World Trade Centre, has taken a first step towards declaring his candidacy in the 2008 contest for the White House.

Aides to Mr Giuliani, 62, who since leaving office at the beginning of 2002 has headed a lucrative consulting company that bears his name, said he had filed papers to establish an exploratory committee for a possible run for the Republican nomination.

Although there is nothing final about creating such a committee, it leaves little doubt that Mr Giuliani will be a candidate in the presidential race. John McCain, the Republican Senator from Arizona and Vietnam veteran, took the same step last weekend.

Recent polls have pointed to Mr Giuliani as the first choice among Republican voters to succeed George Bush as president. His popularity was apparent in the run-up to the recent midterm elections when he crisscrossed the country to support candidates. Wherever he spoke he was the star attraction.

As he tip-toes towards formally declaring - a step he is unlikely to take before early next year - political junkies are already licking their lips at the prospect of a 2008 match-up between the former mayor and the presumed front-runner in the Democrat pack of potential runners, Senator Hillary Clinton.

It would be a collision of personalities that might have happened in 2000 when Mr Giuliani was positioned as the Republican to do battle with Mrs Clinton in New York for the US Senate seat. He withdrew from that contest after being diagnosed with prostrate cancer and beginning a messy divorce.

Even before 9/11, Mr Giuliani was credited with rescuing New York during his two terms as mayor, cracking down on crime and making the city family-friendly. But it was his response to the attacks, deemed both compassionate and firm, that turned him into a hero of American politics. He received an honorary knighthood from the Queen and was named "Man of the Year" by Time.

After the office of mayor passed to Michael Bloomberg in 2002, Mr Giuliani has flourished in the private sector, accumulating clients, including governments and mega-corporations, for his consulting company, and earns as much as $150,000 (£79,000) per appearance on the speaking circuit.

A run for president would expose him to new scrutiny. Questions would be asked about how well prepared New York was before the 9/11 attacks as well as about his association with Bernard Kerik, his former police chief who pleaded guilty this year to accepting favours from a company that did business with the city.

Like Senator McCain, the former mayor has spoken out in support of Mr Bush on the issue of the Iraq war. "I think that we have to remain steadfast in our goal in Iraq," he said last week. He has not gone quite as far as Mr McCain, however, who advocates sending in more troops.

His reputation as a moderate Republican could theoretically be an asset to Mr Giuliani after a midterm election which saw a shift towards the centre.

However, the support of Republican conservatives may be beyond his reach because of his support both for gay marriage and abortion rights. Speaking to a university audience in Pennsylvania on Sunday, he described the election results as "real close", despite the success of the Democrats in retaking both houses of Congress. "I don't see this election, any more than the one two years ago or the one four years ago, as a defining election," he asserted.

There are other Republicans who may yet surface to complicate Mr Giuliani's advance to Washington, including Mitt Romney, the retiring Governor of Massachusettes, as well Mr Bloomberg, the current New York Mayor.