The NY Post has a story exploring whether Giuliani will receive a boost from his Italian heritage, especially in states such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, where Italians make up more than 15 percent of the population:
“Once Italians voted Democratic,” says John Salamone, executive director of the [National Italian American Foundation], a non-partisan umbrella group based in D.C. “In recent elections, they have tended to split along the lines of the national divide – about one third Democratic, one third Republican and one third independent. We’re a very assimilated community.”
Still, this is the first time Italian-Americans have had a national candidate to support. As Giuliani’s candidacy has begun to take off, Salamone has been surprised by a growing grass-roots enthusiasm. “Every day I get calls and emails from across the country, from Republicans and Democrats. This isn’t an endorsement, but I do believe it will translate into votes.”
The big question, left unmentioned in the article, is whether the Italian-Americans who shifted toward Republicans in recent elections were observant Catholics who were wooed on the basis of social issues, in which case Rudy’s stances on abortion and gay rights could be a problem, even if he is a paisan.
But according to the article, political opponents better not make too much hay of reports that Rudy’s father went to jail for burglary and worked as a loan shark:
“They try this every time,” says Salamone. “They even tried to paint Justice Samuel Alito as a guy who might be soft on organized crime, just because he’s an Italian from New Jersey. You want to fire up and embolden the community, try using the Soprano card that way.”
Dona De Sanctis, deputy executive director of the Order Sons of Italy in America, agrees. “Our people are like other Americans, concerned about the direction of the country,” she says. “But one thing we carry with us here, even after 100 years in America, is the need to feel we are respected. If Rudy Giuliani is disrespected, it will galvanize Italian-Americans across the country. I can tell you that the Sons of Italy would be deeply upset.”
Yet another wrinkle in the 2008 presidential race that makes it the most fascinating, and unpredictable, contest in decades.