The Republican National Convention hasn’t started yet, but Governor George Pataki may already have won a round in his quiet rivalry with former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Sure, Mr. Giuliani landed a coveted speaking role in prime time on the first night of the convention. But Mr. Pataki will be introducing President George W. Bush on the convention’s climactic night. For the three-term Governor, it will be the the most important 15 or so minutes of his political life, opportunity to impress a national audience during the most-watched night of the convention.
It’s a chance to show that he is ready for Republican prime time as delegates and pundits alike try to read the tea leaves for 2008.
“George Pataki is the most eloquent defender outside the administration of the President’s response to the terrorist assault on the United States,” said Kieran Mahoney, one of Mr. Pataki’s closest political advisors.
Most eloquent? What about America’s Mayor?
“I’m not drawing a comparison at all,” Mr. Mahoney demurred. “That’s your job, not mine.”
You don’t have to be an aide or friend of Mr. Pataki’s to see him as a winner here. Mr. Giuliani came into the summer as a national hero with a high-profile role on the Bush campaign. He was seen as a likely keynote speaker. Mr. Pataki, meanwhile, is simply the governor of the host state-a figure to be respected, surely, but not a lock for a prime-time slot. But it’s Mr. Pataki who gets to speak to the largest audience and to share a manly embrace with a President whose approval ratings among Republicans is about 90 percent. Mr. Giuliani, meanwhile, will speak on a night the networks have chosen to skip. He’ll be a living symbol of New York on Sept. 11, but perhaps little else.
A Republican strategist in Washington noted that people assumed Mr. Giuliani would have a dominant role “because, after all, he was Time ‘s man of the year and all that stuff.”
But, the strategist added, “if you’re just looking at the political careers of the people involved in the convention, I think Pataki comes out the most substantial winner. If you assume both of them have ambitions to run for President, Pataki is doing himself a lot more good than Giuliani.”
Both Mr. Pataki’s and Mr. Giuliani’s supporters are at pains to insist that there’s no tension, no competition between two men who got off to such a bad start in 1994, when Mr. Giuliani crossed party lines to endorse Mario Cuomo for re-election, spurning Mr. Pataki. Relations mellowed through the 1990′s, and Sept. 11 and its aftermath swept away the animosity. Still, the two are on a collision course as they contemplate their next career move: Each, people close to them say, is considering a Presidential campaign in four years.
While the two politicians are at peace, the sharp elbows continue to fly occasionally among their staff and supporters. On Mr. Pataki’s side, Mr. Giuliani’s shadow is like kudzu, always there to be beaten back.
The speech “shows what Pataki’s position is to Bush relative to anyone else in New York State,” said one friend of the Governor. “It has to do with Pataki’s view of loyalty politically, and his predictability in that regard, as opposed to other people.” Mr. Giuliani does have this decidedly un-Republican habit of going with his gut on endorsements. When the Republican establishment was about ready to forget the Cuomo debacle, Mr. Giuliani endorsed the maverick Senator John McCain in the 2000 Republican Presidential primary.
Mr. Giuliani’s partisans, however, see their man as standing above scuffles with mere governors.
“Politically speaking, Rudy Giuliani is the New York Yankees-he’s got a tremendous national name ID and reputation,” said Rick Davis, a political consultant who has worked for the former Mayor.
This convention, though driven on its surface by the imperatives of Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign, offers a glimpse at two contrasting paths toward the Presidency-one of remarkable political glamour, the other of hard, quiet political work.
Mr. Giuliani’s name has become synonymous with Sept. 11. At Madison Square Garden on Aug. 30, the former Mayor “will speak to the courage of the American people, seen through the acts of bravery of a city that saw tragedy and great acts of heroism on September 11, 2001,” according to the G.O.P. press release. The choice of theme marks his near monopoly on that emotional territory, but also his confinement to it. Still, Mr. Giuliani is a Republican superstar, one who has made “dozens and dozens” of Republican campaign appearances in recent months, according to his spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel. Invitations to his Monday-night cigar party are among the most sought-after items at the convention.
Mr. Giuliani has also spent much of his time since Sept. 11 making money in the private sector. That accounts for the apparent anomaly that the Rainbow Room tribute to Mr. Giuliani will be hosted by the drug company Pfizer. The party is a reward to Mr. Giuliani for his (paid) labors on behalf of the pharmaceuticals industry, which included a press conference to launch an investigation into the purported dangers of imported pharmaceuticals.
While Mr. Giuliani’s bright future reflects off him with every flash bulb, Mr. Pataki has had, locally, a hard season. His state government is now famous for its dysfunction, with everyone from academics to visiting delegations from Africa marveling at how badly it works. The state is drowning in debt and has turned over the key issue of school reform to a court-appointed panel. But with governors imploding to the North and to the West, Mr. Pataki seems to be skating through.
“One guy was brought down for using state contractors on his house, another guy ostensibly by a gay affair,” said Cooper Union historian Fred Siegel of Mr. Pataki’s counterparts in Connecticut and New Jersey. “A third guy runs up the largest debt in the country, is unable to manage his state budget, and there are no consequences.”
Lately, Mr. Pataki has taken some clearly conservative steps, if sometimes only symbolic ones, on the biggest local issues. Last year’s budget passed over his veto of new taxes and spending; the State Senate is considering another override this year of a set of line-item vetoes. He’s also vetoed a bill that would increase the state minimum wage.
These conservative moves, from a Governor who veered left during his 2002 re-election campaign, suggest that he is more concerned with conservative principle than local politics. And while Mr. Giuliani’s press office apparently sees no need to underscore the obvious-that the former Mayor is a hot Republican property-Mr. Pataki’s state-financed press operation works hard to buff the Governor’s image as a national Republican titan.
One high-level member of the Governor’s staff, for example, e-mailed a meticulous list of seven fund-raisers and 22 speaking engagements that Mr. Pataki had done for the President’s re-election campaign.
Mr. Pataki has also proven a prolific fund-raiser, both for Mr. Bush and for the Republican National Convention. Mr. Pataki has raised $9.5 million for the President, according to the staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. And he has lent out his well-oiled fund-raising machine and his fund-raising chief, Cathy Blaney, to handle much of the convention’s fund-raising. And he’s laid plans to throw a politically astute set of parties-including a Hispanic-themed reception at the Copacabana-and created some buzz around a hard-to-get “Pataki Pass” for the parties.
Mr. Pataki is a longtime political ally of Mr. Bush, whom he knew slightly at Yale in the late 1960′s, and better as a fellow Governor in the 1990′s. It’s that personal connection, Mr. Pataki’s aides insist, that led Mr. Bush to pick the New Yorker to introduce him.
Whatever the President’s motivation, however, the speech is a coup.
“I’m sure there were many people who wanted to introduce the President,” said Norman Adler, a New York political consultant who works for both parties. “This is a great showcase.”
Lots of Smiles
The two calls came into the Governor’s office over the weekend, just before the prime-time speaking slots were announced on June 28. One was from Ed Gillespie, the Republican National Committee chairman. The other came from Ken Mehlman, Mr. Bush’s campaign manager. In Mr. Pataki’s camp, “it was a lot of smiles all around,” said the Governor’s communications director, Lisa Stoll. The Governor himself “is really, really honored that he’s the one who gets to introduce the President.”
By the time he retreated to his farm in distant Essex County just before the convention, the Governor’s aides said, the speech had been largely written. He’s called on his usual inner circle to help shape it: Mr. Mahoney, a former advisor to Senator Bob Dole’s Presidential campaign, consultant Arthur Finkelstein; former aide Zenia Mucha; Ms. Stoll and her husband Adam. He also called Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speechwriter with tendencies more lyrical than the Governor’s usual style, for advice, aides to Mr. Pataki said.
Mr. Pataki’s speech presents an unusual opportunity. It’s a chance to gain attention on the national stage and a lasting association, for better or worse, with Mr. Bush. But for a governor whose conservative bona fides seem in doubt-he’s embraced the causes of labor, gay rights and abortion rights-this may be an exception to the rule that the most important audience is on television. For Mr. Pataki, it’s also a chance to impress the tens of thousands of Republican activists packed into Madison Square Garden.
“Pataki is focused as much inside the hall as he is outside, maybe more than any other participant in the convention,” said the Washington Republican strategist.
That’s a testimony to the New York Governor’s most obvious weakness-one he shares with Mr. Giuliani. Convention wisdom holds that Republican primary voters are fanatical conservatives, and that these New Yorkers are just too liberal for that electorate. Mr. Giuliani, his aides think, can use his personal stature to blow those issues aside, and any primary worries haven’t stopped the former Mayor from restarting his federal fund-raising this summer, according to federal campaign-finance filings. Mr. Pataki’s aides say they just don’t buy that conventional wisdom.
Mr. Mahoney points to 1988, when the current President’s father beat three more conservative rivals, Jack Kemp, Pat Robertson and Bob Dole; to Mr. Dole’s success against the conservative Patrick Buchanan; and to John McCain’s near-miss run.
“The G.O.P.-ers who fare most poorly are liberals, followed by the religious right,” Mr. Mahoney wrote in a recent e-mail. “Moderate conservatives always do well in G.O.P. primaries.”