Rudy’s Top Supporters Hope to Drive Lazio Out of Senate Race

No matter how hard he tries, Rudolph Giuliani just can’t seem to make Rick Lazio go away.

Even as the obscure Representative of Long Island prepares to formally announce a campaign for the Republican Senatorial nomination next year, top supporters of Mr. Giuliani, who also wants to run for the Senate, are waging an increasingly bitter behind-the-scenes campaign to give the Mayor a clear path to the nomination. They want Gov. George Pataki, the titular head of the state Republican Party, to do three things right now, before things get out of hand: end his bitter feud with the Mayor; tell Mr. Lazio to take his ingratiating campaign grin back to Suffolk County; and publicly coronate Mr. Giuliani as the G.O.P.’s best and only hope to beat Hillary Rodham Clinton next year. And the Mayor’s allies may have some powerful advocates on their side, including the Republican Party’s state chairman, William Powers, a close ally of Mr. Pataki.

In recent weeks, a number of powerful Republican donors have privately urged Mr. Pataki to put aside whatever distaste he has for the Mayor and make a public gesture of support for Mr. Giuliani, people familiar with the discussions told The Observer . Among the donors, according to the sources, are Hushang Ansary, a former Iranian ambassador to the United States and now a Texas-based oil magnate and top fund-raiser for Gov. George W. Bush of Texas; J. Morton Davis, the chairman of D.H. Blair & Company and a top national Republican donor; and Fred Wilpon, co-owner of the New York Mets. All three men declined to comment.

What’s more, Mr. Powers has told the Governor he believes Mr. Giuliani is the G.O.P.’s best chance of beating Mrs. Clinton, a Republican source who knows both Mr. Powers and Mr. Pataki told The Observer .

In public, Mr. Powers, like Mr. Pataki, has adopted a studiously neutral posture. But the Pataki and Powers ally insisted Mr. Powers has privately declared his support for the Mayor.

“Bill has been pretty explicit with George: ‘Rudy is the guy who should be the candidate,’” the source told The Observer .

Mr. Powers’s pronouncements are not to be taken lightly. A tough-talking former sergeant who has decorated his office with a bumper sticker reading, “What part of Marine do you not understand?,” Mr. Powers wields considerable backstage influence over state politics. The longtime ally of Senator Alfonse D’Amato helped build the New York Republican Party from a fractious tribe of disoriented nobodies in the early 1990′s into a formidable machine that helped orchestrate Mr. Pataki’s rise to power in 1994.

As drill sergeant to the state’s 62 G.O.P. county chairmen, Mr. Powers is well positioned to help unify the party behind a single candidate. Indeed, the vast majority of county chairs are reportedly leaning toward Mr. Giuliani. Still, the Governor could complicate any unifying efforts by remaining neutral, a position some equate with quiet support for Mr. Lazio.

The impasse has made for entertaining political theater. But now Mr. Giuliani apparently wants the Governor to give Mr. Lazio the hook for good. There are signs that mayoral allies are trying to enlist donors as emissaries to the Governor. For instance, Mr. Giuliani’s advisers have asked James Ortenzio, a top Republican fund-raiser and fixer who often counsels the Mayor and the Governor, to plead the case for unifying behind Mr. Giuliani, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Lazio has suggested he will get out of the race at the merest whisper of opposition from Mr. Pataki. But the Governor may not be prepared to make such an overture-after all, watching Mr. Giuliani squirm is too much fun. “The Governor is not going to tell people to get in or get out of a race,” said a top political adviser to Mr. Pataki. “That is a decision the candidates have to make themselves.”

Such talk doesn’t sit well in Mr. Giuliani’s camp. In a few short months, Mr. Lazio has gone from being thought of as a less-than-credible threat to a candidate who is deadly serious about challenging the supposedly invulnerable Mr. Giuliani. On July 23, he sent a letter to statewide Republicans indicating his intention to declare his candidacy the week of Aug. 16.

The strange upshot of all this maneuvering is that Mr. Giuliani, the Mayor who went nose-to-nose with urban disorder and made it blink, has stumbled into a political situation that has eluded his control. Improbably, the instrument of this political chaos is a boyish Congressman from Long Island, a legislator sometimes derided as an affable lightweight whose only apparent attributes are his telegenic dimples.

That very thought has irked supporters of the Mayor. “I would like to see Lazio not get into this race,” said Georgette Mosbacher, a supporter of Mr. Giuliani who is a top Republican fund-raiser and the Republican National Committee woman from New York. “I would like to see Rudy be the candidate. Rudy is already out there and Rudy has almost a national exposure that gives this edge against [Mrs. Clinton].”

If Mr. Giuliani faces a primary, he could lose that edge. While several polls show that Mr. Giuliani would stomp Mr. Lazio, mayoral allies clearly believe an exhausting primary could weaken him, perhaps irreparably, against Mrs. Clinton. For one thing, several Republicans said, some key donors are already turned off by the party infighting. And if the flow of local and national money slows as state officials attempt to resolve internal tensions, Mr. Giuliani’s fund-raising momentum could be hobbled-a potentially lethal development as he prepares for combat with the well-financed First Lady.

Funding a Feud?

“What all this essentially does is make people realize that they’re funding an intratribal dispute,” said one prominent Republican donor.

Given these dire fears, mayoral allies gamely say, it’s only a matter of time until national Republican officials ride in and muscle Mr. Lazio out of the race. “These guys in Washington understand the big power game, and they’re not about to let an opportunity like this go by,” said one ally of the Mayor.

Perhaps. Perhaps not. The Observer contacted a range of national Republican officials and staff members, and every one of them predicted-on and off the record-that the national party would not intervene in New York. Unanimously, they said that the national party could do little to influence Mr. Pataki. They also predicted any efforts to push out Mr. Lazio could backfire by anointing him as the antiestablishment candidate.

Stuart Roy, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is chaired by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said of his boss: “To date he has no intention of getting involved in a primary… Senator McConnell’s position is not going to change.”

“Give me an example of where the national party has come in and cleaned up a primary anywhere in the country,” added an aide to a top Republican official in Washington who is by no means a supporter of Mr. Lazio. “If someone could tell me that Giuliani was our only shot, I still would find it hard to rationalize sending [Republican officials] to Albany to say, ‘Pataki, make it happen.’”

“I’m very frustrated,” said a top party strategist in Washington who supports Mr. Giuliani. “We need to have more pressure. The consensus is [that] people want it to be Giuliani. But you can’t trump a Governor-that’s the problem here.”

So Mr. Giuliani’s allies are trying a new tack: They’re saying their man might just decide to stay put in City Hall rather than expend any energy swatting the mosquito named Lazio. In recent days, the new spin has made its way into the daily press, with unnamed Giuliani allies saying that if state party leaders won’t get behind the Mayor, why, he just might not do them the favor of slaying the Clinton beast. Few insiders took the bait.

Yet there may be something to this scenario. After all, running for Senate without the vigorous backing of Republican and Conservative leaders may be more trouble than it’s worth. Even if Mr. Pataki does have a facts-of-life chat with Mr. Lazio, Mr. Giuliani may still have to contend with other powerful figures intent on doing him in.

A Long Fellow?

Michael Long, the chairman of the small but influential Conservative Party, has said repeatedly that he intends to run a candidate on his line-no matter what. No Republican candidate has won statewide office without Conservative backing since 1974. Mr. Giuliani, who is more liberal on social issues than Mr. Long, has been less than diligent in courting the Conservative Party’s support. That has not been lost on Mr. Long, who told The Observer that he has two potential candidates (he declined to name them), one of whom will run on the Conservative line if he doesn’t choose Mr. Giuliani or Mr. Lazio. And, in any case, Mr. Giuliani would seem a nonstarter for Conservatives because he presumably will have the backing of Liberal Party boss Ray Harding, a close mayoral adviser.

All of this intrigue has inspired some insiders to wonder whether Mr. Giuliani has been doing enough to soothe his enemies. “The Mayor does not know how to ask for things,” conceded one of his supporters. “The Mayor has to pay respect to the office of the Governor.”

In the end, it may fall to Mr. Giuliani to make the first conciliatory moves. Noted a well-placed political adviser to the Mayor: “Once he decides to run, he’ll say, ‘Governor, I intend to run and I want your support.’”

See? Nothing to it.