Rudy's Southern Strategy

Contributed by Jonathan Darman and Arian Campo-Flores

When Judi Giuliani referred to her "big testosterone-factor husband" in the pages of Harper's Bazaar in February, her remarks were widely ridiculed and seen as evidence that the former New York mayor's new wife might not be quite ready for prime time. But after Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, Giuliani's top Southern conservative ally, admitted he'd solicited prostitutes from the famed "D.C. Madam," Judi's description seems remarkably apt. The testosterone factor may be at play, but not in quite the way his wife intended--and it could wind up as one of the biggest impediments to Giuliani's winning the GOP nomination for the White House.

The Vitter revelation is, after all, just the latest scandal to touch the periphery of the Giuliani operation. Last month, his South Carolina campaign chairman was forced to step down after he was indicted on federal cocaine charges (the chairman pleaded not guilty). Meanwhile, Giuliani's 9/11 hero image has been tarnished by corruption charges against Bernard Kerik, Giuliani's police commissioner on 9/11 (Kerik pleaded guilty to two state corruption charges for improperly accepting renovations to his apartment from a contractor doing business with the city). A Giuliani aide, who would only discuss sensitive issues on the condition of anonymity, said the spree of scandals was nothing more than "a string of bad luck."

Giuliani continues to poll well, and his fund-raising numbers have been solid. He also surely benefits from the ongoing implosion of Sen. John McCain's campaign. But the run of unhelpful headlines hit Giuliani where he is arguably weakest politically: personal morality. The thrice-married Giuliani has long known that his toughest challenge in the Republican primaries will be proving to the party's conservative Christian base that he represents their values. It's not a slam-dunk case. His less-than-hard-line stance on social issues have cost him support on the right. His decision to announce he was leaving his second wife at a press conference--and his decision to dress in drag for the city's press corps during his time as mayor--haven't helped matters much. And who thought it would be a good idea to announce he was reading "The Female Fan Guide to Motorsports" during his first trip to a NASCAR event? While nobody thinks Giuliani is responsible for Vitter's behavior, stories about drugs and prostitution problems in his organization's ranks only hurt his cause--especially down South, where he faces a new threat from homegrown conservative Fred Thompson. Giuliani is no doubt hoping Southern primary voters know how to tell the difference between a gentleman and the company he keeps.