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Rudy, in NH, tries to stay above the fray

From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli
BRETTON WOODS, NH -- As many Republican candidates sharpen the knives ahead of the first nominating contest of the year, Giuliani -- signaling his focus on the longer contest ahead -- looked to stay above the fray today.

Even as he campaigned here in New Hampshire, Giuliani did not exactly pursue the typical primary course. After a town hall meeting in Plymouth, he shook hands for just a few minutes before his staff asked the crowd to leave the room so Giuliani could do a live interview on Fox News Channel. He went on to a ski lodge in Lincoln, where he exchanged quick greetings with hordes of people who seemed surprised to see him there before he quickly moved. And he ended his day at the ritzy Mount Washington Resort, where he addressed a crowd that likely included as many out-of-staters on vacation as it did primary voters.

And as Romney, McCain and Huckabee exchange more pointed barbs on the eve of the caucuses, the former New York mayor urged restraint. In Plymouth, when Giuliani was asked specifically how he differed from his party rivals, he invoked Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment, saying he'll stick to talking about his record. But he did state the Giuliani amendment to that commandment. "Don't criticize other Republicans, comma, unless they criticize me," Giuliani said. "I have to make a little exception."

Giuliani went on to say that Republicans should not be "attacking each other. I don't think you get very much out of that." But, he added, "Of all the people in the field, I also have the most executive experience. I've run a government that is a very complicated government... And I didn't just run it. I got exceptional results."

At the Mount Washington Lodge, a woman told Giuliani that the last time she saw him, he was campaigning for Romney during the 2002 gubernatorial race. She wanted to know why he was now challenging him. Giuliani did remember the night in question. "We went to a great Italian restaurant. Great meal." But he called Romney "a friend," "a very good man," and "a very worthy candidate." "I just happen to think I'm a better candidate. And that I'd be better at being president," he said.

Speaking to reporters after the Plymouth event, Giuliani said he didn't feel left out of the back-and-forth among other candidates so close to the caucuses in Iowa. In fact, he said he wouldn't even be in Iowa on caucus night -- instead planning to rally supporters in Florida. "We're not involved in the back and forth about criticism of each other. I kinda like that," he said.

He also voiced confidence in his standing, even as polls show his national polling lead disappearing. "I think this race will narrow even more maybe," he said. "We expected it would be that way. Now it's a question of the Republicans deciding on who they want to be their candidate. And they'll do it in all these different states. And when you look at the states, we're in very good shape in a number of the states. And some we have some work to do. And that's why we're here."