EARLIER this month, former President Bill Clinton was in New Hampshire campaigning for his wife when he told a story about a guy who had recently approached him on the golf course. The guy, it turns out, was the son of Irish immigrants and a captain on the New York City Fire Department. As many FDNY members do these days, Clinton's fellow golfer badmouthed Rudy Giuliani and praised Senator Clinton for paying attention to the health issues resulting from the collapse of the twin towers.

"Your wife knew immediately -- immediately - that many of us would get sick and some of us would die because of what we breathed doing our duty on that day and the days after," Clinton recalled the man saying, as reported in the New York Observer.

Just as Giuliani has gleefully talked about having received letters of praise from Bill Clinton when the latter was president, so the Clinton camp is thrilled to have what would seem to be a typical Rudy voter -- an Irish New York firefighter - on their side.

But the truth is, as the 2008 race for the White House heats up, Irish Americans are all over the place, talking up Mitt Romney, bashing Giuliani and even prodding a certain billionaire mayor from New York to enter the race.

Of course, there are those, such as Clinton's unidentified Irish golf buddy, as well as current Deputy Fire Chief Jim Riches, who are determined to sink Giuliani. Just this week, Riches -- an Irish American who works with a group called 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims -- stated plainly that he hopes to sink Giuliani's candidacy the way the co-called Swift Boat veterans hurt John Kerry.

"Giuliani wasn't a hero on 9/11. He was a failure," said Riches, whose firefighter son was killed that day.

Any drag on Giuliani is a plus for the other Republicans looking to beat him. So, Yonkers native Kevin Madden should be pleased with such heated anti-Giuliani rhetoric.

Madden, whose father came from Galway and whose mother was born in Tyrone, is currently serving as top spokesman for the Romney campaign. Initially believed to be weak, Romney has managed to stick around in the polls, even as Giuliani garners headlines and Fred Thompson has entered the race.

Madden began his political career in New York, working for Congressman John Sweeney, before moving to Washington, where he was a top aide in the 2004 Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.

This week, Madden has been busy as Romney attempts to gain traction with voters by making critical comments about the Republican party as well as Democrats.

Madden has said Americans are frustrated not just by one party but a "broader Washington mindset."

Finally, there is a dark horse floating out there. Though he has done his best to put the rumors to rest, people still look at New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and see an attractive presidential candidate.

If Bloomberg is, by now, sick and tired of the speculation, he has no one to blame but his closest Irish American aide, Kevin Sheekey.

There is a profile of Sheekey in the latest issue of Esquire magazine, and it makes clear that Sheekey is on a mission to get Bloomy to run.

"Like most Irish Americans born before the Summer of Love, Kevin Sheekey cannot ignore the lure of Camelot. So as he sits at a prime table on the cool lawn of the mayor's mansion in Los Angeles, he gapes as Maria Shriver speaks about how politicians can achieve zero without talented staffs to turn vision into action," the profile begins.

Then comes the blunt truth. "Sheekey is here because his boss, Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York, is seen as a post-partisan apostle of effective governance. Or perhaps more accurately, Bloomberg is here because his political strategist, Sheekey, 41, is betting that the climate is right to knock the two-party system on its ear. He's trotting his boss around the country to test the power of two words: President Bloomberg."

Sheekey has already been recruited by Shriver "because she panicked watching her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, try to run California like he was an action hero without a screenplay . and pleaded, Please save my husband from himself."

Sheekey, however, stuck with Mayor Bloomberg. That may change however. He may soon be working for candidate Bloomberg.

Whatever comes of the 2008 presidential race, it's clear Irish Americans will be in the thick of it.

(Contact Tom at tomdeignan@verizon.net.)

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