Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani
NEW YORK — Politics and Sept. 11 have always formed a volatile brew — capable of boosting politicians who handle it deftly and damaging those who don't.
The day's tenuous power to unite will be on display Tuesday when Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani come together at Ground Zero ceremonies marking the sixth anniversary of the attacks.
It's the first time the two leading presidential contenders plan to share the same stage since, well, last Sept.11.
But for all the expected harmony of the day, Sept. 11 and the broader issue of terror remain among the most potent and potentially divisive forces in American politics, experts say.
"You have to be very careful how you talk about it, but it is surprisingly powerful," said consultant Joe Mercurio, referring to poll numbers showing that security and terror remain a top concern among voters.
Clinton should need no reminder of the topic's delicacy. She drew sharp attacks last month when she mused on the political fallout if there is another terrorist attack.
"If certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again," she said at a New Hampshire house party. "So I think I'm the best of the Democrats to deal with that."
The comment struck many as an attempt to exploit the fear of terrorism for political gain, but she would hardly be the first.
In 2004, President Bush made terrorism a centerpiece of his re-election strategy. Adviser Karl Rove had the Republican convention moved to New York — and to the last week of August — so Bush's acceptance speech would be that much closer to Ground Zero and the Sept. 11 anniversary.
This time around, it is Giuliani who is most aggressively pushing terrorism concerns and the specter of another attack. It remains the lifeblood of his campaign, and a theme he raises virtually everywhere he goes.
As he said in Florida on Friday as Osama bin Laden released a new video, "We can't forget (Sept. 11) because it's still going on. They're still attempting to do the same kind of thing."
But Giuliani's Sept. 11 role cuts both ways. His hero image is being loudly questioned by a persistent band of firefighters and their families. They see a former mayor who cost lives by failing to provide working fire department radios or set up a unified command post between cops and firefighters.