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Choreographing the San Diego Campaign Visit

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani visited San Diego for lunch yesterday. Well, he's not officially a candidate yet. Giuliani has an "exploratory committee" to see if he'll run. And he didn't really stop by to eat lunch.  He shook as many hands as possible in between fund raisers. The news media just happened to be there waiting -- and so was KPBS Radio's Andrew Phelps.

Giuliani's handlers call this a "retail stop." The candidate shows up at a popular eatery to converse with the common man. The Giuliani camp chose Point Loma Seafoods, a great place to grab a fish sandwich at lunch.

It's also a great photo op, because San Diego's harbor sparkles in the background. Photographers and reporters hover around the parking lot while we wait for Giuliani's arrival. I check in with Jared, one of Giuliani's aides. He describes where the candidate will walk and what he'll do. All of this choreographed hours in advance.

Jared: And then he's going to spend some time sitting down and eating in that area there. And then after that we'll bring him out here and kind of somewhere we can get some space, and he'll do a quick press avail.

He said "press avail." That's short for "press availability."

Finally, Giuliani arrives, and a couple hundred people flock in his direction.

This little boy got to shake Giuliani's hand.

Boy: I'm never washing it again. (Joey got to shake his hand.)

Giuliani got inside to sample the Manhattan clam chowder. And everyone in the building watched Giuliani eat clam chowder. Two things make this scene different from campaigns of the past. First, this is the earliest we've seen them begin. And second, candidates are showing up here a lot more often. John McCain was in San Diego a couple of weekends ago, Barack Obama a few weeks before that.

San Diego Native David Britt is hanging back from the crowds. He tells me he would vote for Giuliani.

Britt: But you know it's so far out. I think this is ridiculous two years out.

Hours after Giuliani's visit, California lawmakers voted to move up the state's primary election to February. Now the bill is waiting for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature. That's forcing candidates to pay more attention to voters here - not just big-money donors.

Speaking of Schwarzenegger, there are a few comparisons of the California governor to the former New York mayor. Here's San Diegan Diane Solters.

Solters : He's kind of his own man, and he really leads by, you know, his beliefs, personally and professionally, and I like that about him. He learns from his mistakes, and he's not above saying he's made a few.

When it finally came time for that "press avail," Giuliani didn't give any cohesive platform. He spoke briefly about Iraq but was sparse on details.

Giuliani: We're really at war because they're at war with us. And we're going to stay on offense until they stop that. But we really want to win over their hearts and minds. And also talking about looking toward the future and solving our problems from strength and not weakness.

It ended almost as quickly as it began. The candidate is whisked away by some guys in suits. Before he leaves, Giuliani walks toward me to shake my hand. He has a firm grip. And I'll admit, for just a moment I got caught up in the excitement.

For KPBS, I'm Andrew Phelps.

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