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Rudy Giuliani told a Republican Jewish audience that he was the likeliest Republican candidate to win the presidential election. “I think I give us the best chance of winning back the House and the Senate,” the former New York mayor told a Republican Jewish Coalition presidential forum in Washington on Tuesday.

Giuliani said Republicans would not fare well without “purple states” — transitioning between Democratic blue and Republican red — such as Michigan and New Jersey, where he polls competitively with Democratic candidates and other more conservative candidates do not. Giuliani, the front-runner in national polls and among Jewish fund-raisers, favors legal abortion and does not oppose gay marriage. He drew sharp distinctions between himself and the Democratic front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), accusing her of wanting to “negotiate” with Iran, although he recently faulted the Bush administration for de-emphasizing diplomacy in its dealings with the Islamic Republic. Both candidates favor keeping military options on the table. Giuliani said he was more decisive than Clinton, noting his order in 1995 ejecting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from a Lincoln Center concert. He also took a subtle dig at his leading competitor in the race, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is leading in key primary states. Giuliani said that when he ejected Arafat, “I didn’t call for a team of lawyers,” a reference to a recent Romney debate answer to how he would deal with an Iranian attack on American troops in Iraq. Giuliani hinted at a split with the Bush administration, saying the time was not ripe to discuss Palestinian statehood. He said Palestinians must recognize Israel and dismantle terrorist groups.

“If they do those two things and they mean it, and time demonstrates that they mean it, then of course we negotiate,” Giuliani said. The Bush administration is pressing for Palestinian statehood and has convened a conference on the issue to take place next month. In a 40-minute address, Giuliani mentioned the Iraq war, the key issue dogging Republican candidates, only once in passing.

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