Stop Three: What's Cooking?

VERO BEACH, Fla.--I spotted the sign as I pulled up to the Italian-American Civic Association here in Vero Beach, stuck in the lawn right next to a RUDY placard: "PASTA DINNER SUNDAY" and then, in Magic Marker, "4:15-7:15." At first, I was confused. The other signs said the feast was set to start at 4:00 sharp. Then it hit me.

The kind men and women of the Civic Association had graciously delayed their dinner. For 15 whole minutes. For a potential president.

Trust me. For us Italian-Americans--"Romano," I'm told, isn't Scandinavian--15 minutes is an eternity when you're waiting for some spaghetti.

Good thing Giuliani was running right on schedule. At 3:00 on the dot, he pulled up in his "Florida is Giuliani Country" bus, the "Rudy" soundtrack blaring from the PA, and sprinted to the stage. With a "Tested. Ready. Now" banner behind him, Hizzoner shifted the spotlight from terrorism--this morning's obsession--to the economy, the top concern of the retirees in attendance. "I'm the only Republican who's done a turnaround of a major economy," he said. "I left New York City a much stronger place than what was handed to me. I can do the same thing for the country, with the same principles." Cue geriatric cheering, which was exceeded in volume only when Rudy promised to "fight hard to make sure your social security is secure." Go figure.

Three stops into my Roadtrip with Rudy, I have to wonder whether appealing to the constituencies that would back you no matter what--Jews, Italians, former New Yorkers, pizza lovers--is the best way to mount a Florida comeback. After the rally, I asked a wiry little fellow originally from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn if he was an Italian-American. "I'm Italian," he said. "Speak it, too." You a Giuliani supporter? "Oh yeah. Ever since he was mayor. Did a good job on... what you call it? 5-11?" 9/11? I ventured. "That's right. 9/11." It's obvious that Giuliani is spending the day playing to his strengths and hoping to lure as many of these core "no questions asked" supporters to the polls as possible. But there's a certain futility implied, as if he's tacitly conceding that he's lost the larger blocs--national-security Republicans, for example, who are flocking to McCain--and is now content to nibble around edges in the final hours before the primary.

Speaking of nibbling, Giuliani wrapped up his remarks a brief 25 minutes after arriving. An Italian-American himself, perhaps he sensed the oncoming meal--or smelled it, rather, as the aroma of tomato sauce wafted through the room. Either way, five minutes later, the buffet pans were out, the fixins bar was ready and the rows of chairs had been replaced by a banquet arrangement. Rudy's bus was still in the lot. "Wow, that was really fast," said one Giuliani staffer. There were already little cups of grated parmesan in the middle of each table.