Freshly returned from the midterm campaign trail, a smiling Rudy Giuliani was welcomed into the friendly confines of Cipriani’s on the evening of April 25. As waiters in white coats scurried about the main dining room, Mr. Giuliani made an entrance worthy of a Presidential contender.
“I’ve spent a lot of time down in the South,” he told The Observer as he walked in with his wife Judith on his arm. “I just got back from New Orleans. It was devastating, but I’m back in New York. I love New York. I’m from New York.”
The black-tie affair, thrown by the Manhattan Institute, Mr. Giuliani’s old cheering section, marked a homecoming of sorts for the 61-year-old former Mayor. During the last several months, he has spent a lot of time under the radar and below the Mason-Dixon Line, quietly building coalitions with conservative Republicans as he prepares for a potential 2008 Presidential bid.
Despite Mr. Giuliani’s absence from the national stage, Tuesday night’s hobnobbing with Tom Wolfe, David Brooks and Mortimer Zuckerman served as a reminder that the former Mayor is a genuine celebrity. He enjoys enormous national name recognition and is widely seen as a strong leader because of the resolve he showed during the Sept. 11 attacks.
But there is also a serious question of how long Mr. Giuliani can remain at the top of national Republican polls (along with his friend, Senator John McCain) while holding starkly unconservative positions on abortion and gay rights. Moderation may work here in New York, but it doesn’t necessarily fly in the red states.
Perhaps for that reason, Mr. Giuliani has been skipping straw polls and lying low to keep those issues—plus his two divorces—buried below the headlines.
But some Republican strategists see in Mr. Giuliani’s recent and conspicuous support of conservative candidates an effort to quell opposition from the Republican right wing should he eventually run.
“It gives him an opportunity to campaign for candidates and neutralize the opposition,” said Arnold Steinberg, a Republican strategist. “Because there will be people who may not be for him, but they won’t be passionately against him.”
And so Mr. Giuliani has dropped in on the Global Pastors of Florida, campaigned with pro-life Senator Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, and signed on for a fund-raiser for Ralph Reed, the co-founder of the Christian Coalition and a candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia. This weekend, he is holding a cocktail party for a more like-minded Republican, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.
The busy schedule also allows Mr. Giuliani to stay in the thick of Presidential politics without overexposing himself in the national limelight. By conquering new constituencies with tough talk about national security, Mr. Giuliani is showing conservative America that he is a candidate they can live with, if not love. And that could just be enough if the Republican Party needs a New Yorker to stand up to Mr. Giuliani’s old foe, Senator Hillary Clinton, in a general election.
And so Mr. Giuliani is dusting off some old Hillary barbs.
“We’re both Yankee fans,” Mr. Giuliani said of Mrs. Clinton while campaigning this month with Senator Santorum in the home state of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I became a Yankee fan growing up in New York. She became a Yankee fan growing up in Chicago.”
But Anthony V. Carbonetti, a top executive at Giuliani Partners, a consulting firm, and a close advisor to Mr. Giuliani, warned that it was too early to determine who would stand “at the other end of the ring,” meaning that it is unclear who will emerge as the Democratic Party’s nominee. He also emphasized that Mr. Giuliani hasn’t decided whether to run or not. He added, however, that if Mr. Giuliani does run, he would find common ground with many in the Republican Party.
“If he decided to go forward, you get more into the record and the accomplishments in New York,” said Mr. Carbonetti, referring to the historic decreases in crime and in welfare cases during Mr. Giuliani’s tenure as Mayor. “I would count on those accomplishments in any Republican primary.”
Still, to Republican candidates running in this year’s midterm election, Mr. Giuliani’s appeal is based on Sept. 11. On April 6, Mr. Giuliani reinforced that image with an appearance at the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, and the large majority of his nearly 150 talks in the last two years have addressed national security.
“He has been very active, but not on the typical dog-and-pony shows. He doesn’t do the straw polls in Memphis or the breakfast at the Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. “Part of his mystique is that he’s out there as an unknown quantity. And I think he wants to keep that as long as possible.”
That said, Mr. Giuliani is increasing his visibility as the midterm elections loom, and Mr. Carbonetti said he is “committed to campaigning for and raising money for Republican candidates.” Republicans are desperately in need of someone who can help get voters excited, and Mr. Giuliani can pack them in like few others.
Bound for Iowa
“It’s an election year, and he is coming out here to help our candidates, looking to get Republicans in Congress,” said Sarah Sauber, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Republican Party. On May 1, Mr. Giuliani is scheduled to speak at a “Get Motivated” seminar in Iowa that is expected to draw nearly 20,000 to the Wells Fargo Arena. He will also make appearances at fund-raisers for Representative Jim Nussle, a candidate for Governor, and Jeff Lamberti, a candidate for Congress. The Iowa caucuses, of course, are the first important event in the Presidential primary season.
A day after that, Mr. Giuliani goes to Washington, as the featured guest at a fund-raiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. According to the committee’s spokesman, Brian Nick, Mr. Giuliani is still a major draw and a “tremendous asset” for Republicans. Mr. Nick said the former Mayor generates large amounts of contributions that “will directly help candidates around the country.”
Mr. Giuliani is also doing well for himself, thanks to lucrative speaking engagements and the business of his Giuliani Partners consulting firm. In 2005, he was named as a partner to the Houston-based law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, which also helped build connections in the South.
“He certainly has star power down here,” said Jay W. Ragley, political director of the Republican Party of South Carolina. Mr. Ragley said that when the time came, voters would have to balance Mr. Giuliani’s less-than-conservative stance on social issues with his leadership qualities, but added that in the meantime, “I think most Republican people want to see him and be near him.”
That sentiment was echoed around the country.
“When it comes to talking to folks about the importance of President Bush’s global war on terror,” said Jeff Sadosky, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, “folks nationwide look to Rudy Giuliani.”
As Mr. Giuliani builds a bank of favors to potentially cash in on without suffering the scrutiny of an official Presidential bid, he also has the luxury of keeping his options open. His flexibility can prove maddening to political Sibyls.
“It’s a popular parlor game in Washington, D.C., to handicap Rudy Giuliani’s potential path to a Presidential bid,” said Nelson Warfield, a Republican strategist who is dubious of Mr. Giuliani’s chances. “I think he has no shot in the South once people find out about the Harvey Milk High School for gay teenagers [which was expanded in 2001, during the Mayor’s last year in office], and the panoply of liberal and progressive issues that he has to explain.”
Indeed, evangelist leader Jerry Falwell articulated such opposition recently when he told CNN: “As conservative Christians who take the Bible seriously, we have probably irreconcilable differences on life and family and that kind of thing. I’ll never speak an ill word about [Mr. Giuliani], because he means so much to America. But I couldn’t support him for President.”
Unless, perhaps, if Mr. Giuliani emerges as the lesser of two evils.
Mrs. Clinton, who already has raised more than $30 million for her Senate re-election this year and is widely believed to be preparing for a run for President, turns out to be Mr. Giuliani’s best friend when it comes to his own Presidential ambitions, according to many Republican strategists. The prospect of a Hillary Presidency could distract Southern conservatives from Mr. Giuliani’s more liberal social positions.
“They might fear her so much that they would embrace him,” said Mr. Steinberg.
A combination of Mr. Giuliani’s fame and Mrs. Clinton as an opponent also gives him an edge when it comes to fund-raising.
“Seeing the success he has in raising money for other people, I’m confident he would be successful,” said Mr. Carbonetti, who said he speaks regularly with Karl Rove, the President’s deputy chief of staff responsible for politics, and Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Political observers also think that a Hillary candidacy opens up opportunities for Mr. Giuliani, even if he doesn’t make it through the primary. If a Republican candidate with more traditionally conservative values on social issues ends up facing Mrs. Clinton, there are few more attractive choices for Vice President than Mr. Giuliani.
“Everybody looks for a base to run from,” said Rick Wiley, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “Obviously, he would really stymie her position to run up the score in New York. She would have to look elsewhere to pick up those electoral votes.”
Whatever the calculus turns out to be, Mr. Giuliani is causing plenty of chin-scratching and anguish for politicians and analysts around the country.
“He is an interesting candidate, because he is so strong in some areas that conservatives are willing to overlook some of their differences with him,” said Republican pollster David Winston. “Making a decision to run for President is not like any other. I think he is going through a process of deciding what he is going to do.”