The GOP front-runner touted his record, shook hands and did a bit of Twin Cities fundraising.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani called for a cup of coffee Thursday morning, took off his rimless glasses and embarked on a 20-minute tutorial of his presidential campaign.
Surrounded by a tableful of supporters who had gathered at St. Paul's Parkview Cafe for his first public campaign appearance in Minnesota, Giuliani laid out his record on taxes and immigration, but quickly cut to the chase by linking his listeners to his enduring claim to fame and the centerpiece of his campaign: the 9/11 terrorist attack.
"How's everyone dealing with the bridge collapse?" he asked, taking a sip of coffee. "I guess everyone in the community feels there but for the grace of God -- I could've been driving over that bridge at that time. It's very much like the World Trade Center attack in that sense. Every New Yorker feels in a certain sense that there but for the grace of God it could have been me. I could've been in the building, I could have been standing there."
Giuliani has compared himself on the stump to Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan -- the clear-eyed leader who sees more acutely than anyone else the threat confronting his nation and the only one tough enough to confront that threat.
The image resonated with several of his supporters Thursday.
"A friend of mine suggested we have him here, and I figured what the heck -- he's a heck of a guy," said Lisa Murphy, who opened the doors of her small St. Anthony Park restaurant on Thursday. "You have to admire the guy --he's America's mayor. He stepped up to the plate on 9/11. If he gets the nomination, I'll back him 100 percent."
When Murphy told a friend, Teri Hewitt, about Giuliani's plan to stop in, Hewitt leaped at the chance to shake his hand.
She also wanted to snap his picture. "I think he's got the whole package," Hewitt said. "He's all about national defense, which is paramount. I mean, everything else pales if you're not alive."
Keying off his visit, the DFL blasted Giuliani's version of his mayoral accomplishments before and after 9/11 as "claims that are, at best, half-truths, and sometimes not even half."
For now, Giuliani is the front-runner in the nine-man Republican field, as measured by a slew of national polls.
He wasn't shy about touting that fact Thursday when he faced reporters after his cafe stop.
The polls, he said, show "I'm the only Republican candidate that has the chance of winning the states that were previously Democratic states. You can pick New York or California or New Jersey or Connecticut or Minnesota or Michigan, Illinois. Any one of my opponents loses by double digits or more. ... I'm the only one that wins any of those states and in every one of them, I'm competitive."
Although he hasn't assembled a campaign organization in Minnesota, he has been busy raising money, hitting a private fundraiser after his cafe stop.
He was dismissive of recent polls showing former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson running a strong second, even before Thompson kicked off his campaign Thursday in Iowa.
"I don't run against any other Republicans," Giuliani said. "I run against Democrats."
Back at the table, his coffee half-drained, he laid out his thoughts on immigration with Julia Nikrad, a 27-year-old who came to Minnesota from Kyrgyzstan six years ago.
When she pressed him on curtailing illegal immigration, Giuliani said all that needs to be done is "end it. All it takes is the political will to do it. It's not a mean thing to do."
After building a "technological fence" along the border, the federal government needs to "separate the good ones from the bad ones," Giuliani said. "Throw the bad ones out and give the good ones a chance to regularize themselves."