Will Prostate Cancer Humanize Giuliani? (posted April 29, 2000)

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's surprise announcement that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer raises the question of how the illness will affect his Senate bid against First Lady Hillary Clinton. Plagued by a public image that is arrogant, mean-spirited, and contentious, the unfortunate diagnosis may boost Giuliani's political fortunes. Not only does it generate a wave of sympathy in the short-run, the prostate cancer illness offers the potential to humanize Giuliani in the eyes of voters. Over the next few months, Giuliani will endure either radiation therapy or surgery, or both, which will redefine his public profile and give him a chance to talk about health care in America with more authority. As long as he can muster enough time and energy to run a vigorous campaign, this surprise development should be politically advantageous to him.

Look for Giuliani to shift to a "Rose Garden" strategy during his recovery. He will campaign from his home base in New York City, but will use photo opportunities, short press conferences, and lots of television advertisements to make the point that he is the one to represent New York in the U.S. Senate. His illness complicates the ability of Clinton to attack his vision and record over the next few months while he deals with his pressing medical ailment. It is difficult to attack an opponent who is shuffling in and out of medical treatment centers, without looking mean-spirited yourself.