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THE AWOL WIFE

A while ago Rudy Giuliani was touting his spouse, a nurse, as someone who could sit in on Cabinet meetings. Now she's ...

This week, Rudy Giuliani is focusing on health issues, attacking Democrats' plans to get the government more involved in covering the cost of medical care. In a campaign tour of New Hampshire, he used the word "socialism" so often that it crowded out the old nonterror-related record-holder, "Ronald Reagan." Other frequently repeated nouns were "choice" (good) and "France" (bad).

Since the campaign says it will take a few more months to crunch the numbers and make the details perfectly clear, I am prepared to defer probing any deeper.

Meanwhile, we can consider the disappearance of Judith Giuliani.

You may remember a while back that Rudy Giuliani was touting his wife, a nurse, as an important adviser to him on health matters. This was around the time that he told Barbara Walters that he would be "very, very comfortable" having her sitting in on Cabinet meetings and policy discussions about her area of expertise.

So Judith was expected to be part of the New Hampshire health care tour. But her plans seemed to change about the time a new Vanity Fair profile emerged, one that makes her sound like a particularly unpleasant combination of Catherine the Great and Britney Spears. The article accuses her of everything from demanding a separate airplane seat for her handbag to putting her husband in harm's way by forcing him to retrieve a bag of health bars from the hotel during a security lockdown.

It's a howl from the political and moneyed elite, recoiling from the idea of the social-climbing third Mrs. Giuliani. "It's a vile and venomous piece," said Michael McKeon, a Giuliani spokesman.

Many of the anonymous quotes in the Vanity Fair piece seem to have come from past and present Giuliani employees, who are particularly bitter about Judith's alleged attempts to elbow out his closest aides and confidants. This is not something you as a voter need to worry about since Giuliani's closest aides and confidants tend to be expendable hangers-on.

There are three possible roles for the modern political wife/husband: Partner, Decorative Accessory or AWOL. We're knee-deep in partners these days, but there's nothing to suggest Judith Giuliani can play in those leagues. In fact, although the campaign has tried to launch her several times, she's showed absolutely no aptitude even for the role of admiring spouse.

She kept one of her divorces under wraps for a long while, trying to convince the world that Rudy was only her second husband.

In a rare speaking appearance last spring, she began with an anecdote about when they first met that was both unwise, given his married state at the time, and unlikely. ("The first time we sat down and talked I said: 'What do you know about infectious diseases?' ")

To protect his wife from sniping, all Rudy needs to do is say that he was looking at the world through the eyes of love when he seemed to be envisioning her as a future weapons inspector. ("She gives us a lot of advice and a lot of help in areas where she's got a tremendous amount of expertise - biological and chemical," he said in 2003.)

They can jointly announce that while he campaigns, she's decided to return to her true love and raise money for hospitals. They will need all the help they can get if his health care plan ever goes into effect.

Already, we can detect baby steps in this direction. Asked Wednesday to describe Judith's role in the Giuliani race, McKeon said: "She is involved with the campaign in terms of helping out with the fundraising."

Gail Collins is a New York Times columnist.

Excerpt

Who does Judith Stish Ross Nathan Giuliani think she is? These days, even with her husband, a freshly minted multimillionaire, far ahead of the competition in the Republican presidential polls, no one, least of all Judith, 52, seems to have a clue. In a way, this is understandable. There have been so many different Judiths. As her second husband, Bruce Nathan, has told friends, "She is in an ever changing mode upward."

From Giuliani's Princess Bride, by Judy Bachrach, September 2007 Vanity Fair

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