Tony Carbonetti is no Mark Penn. And he’s certainly no Karl Rove.
In fact, Mr. Carbonetti, a senior political adviser for the Rudy Giuliani campaign, is pretty much a newcomer to thinking about politics on a global level.
Not that he’s intimidated.
“I’m a different person than I was in City Hall,” said Mr. Carbonetti in a recent interview over beers in an Outback Steakhouse in Manhattan. “I don’t have any self-doubt.”
An affable back-slapper with short salt-and-pepper hair, full cheeks, small gold-framed glasses and a big gray suit, the 38-year-old Mr. Carbonetti’s entire political experience comes at the service of Mr. Giuliani, a longtime family friend.
Over the past couple of years, he’s made the abrupt career leap from local political fixer to architect of a front-running presidential campaign.
Early on in the campaign, Mr. Carbonetti—who served as Mr. Giuliani’s chief of staff in City Hall—helped formulate carefully calibrated positions on issues like abortion, guns and gay rights in an attempt to make them more palatable to conservative Republican primary voters without obviously contradicting the former mayor’s previously liberal record on social issues.
Mr. Carbonetti served as a sort of friendly emissary for his notoriously intemperate boss, reaching out to Mr. Giuliani’s old rivals in the party (Al D’Amato) and serving as a sounding board for complaints from potential new ones (Michael Bloomberg).
It was also Mr. Carbonetti, as much as anyone, who cleared the way for Mr. Giuliani to run for president in the first place.
“I made sure we went out and endorsed the right people, did the right things for the party, kept all the doors open that we possibly could,” Mr. Carbonetti said, referring to his extracurricular activities while working at the firm Giuliani Partners. “After the  cycle was done I said, ‘Let’s start a committee.’”
He subsequently recruited Republican National Committee operative Mike DuHaime—“We went all the way across the water to Jersey to get him,” Mr. Carbonetti said—and former Rove aide Chris Henick to work on the campaign.
Pointing to Mr. Giuliani’s lead in national polls and unexpected competitiveness in key conservative-leaning primary states, Mr. Carbonetti evinces delight at the way his presidential project has gone so far.
“I don’t believe this can be taken from us,” Mr. Carbonetti said of that lead, placing his hands in the air around an imaginary throat. “Now that I have locked that up I can go do battle elsewhere.”
Mr. Carbonetti makes it all sound pretty simple.
But what if it’s not?
FRAN REITER, THE deputy campaign manager of Mr. Giuliani’s 1993 campaign and a former City Hall official, said that while Mr. Carbonetti was an effective “behind-the-scenes type guy” she doubted his ability to navigate all the complicated policy questions that come up in a presidential campaign.
“He does have good political instincts,” said Ms. Reiter. “But I don’t think they are necessarily translatable.”
And some veterans of the national Republican scene, pointing to missteps like Mr. Giuliani’s poor preparation for the early debates, his stuttering late entry into the New Hampshire primary battle and the campaign’s inability to quell the nagging scandal surrounding his connection to the now disgraced former aide Bernie Kerik, have been downright dismissive.
“I don’t know of another Republican campaign that he has worked on, and this is not a position for on-the-job training,” said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster who worked for Robert Dole in 1996 but is not working for any of the 2008 candidates. “Other than with Giuliani, I’ve never heard of the guy.”
Certainly, his credentials as a would-be presidential kingmaker are unusual.
MR. CARBONETTI GREW up on 116th Street and Second Avenue in what was then called Italian Harlem.
His grandfather, Louis Carbonetti Sr, was a Democratic district leader and antagonist of the infamous Tammany Hall’s Carmine De Sapio. Louis was also pals with a failed stickup artist named Harold Giuliani.
Their sons, Louis Carbonetti Jr. and Rudy Giuliani, also became friends.
As Mr. Giuliani built a successful career as a prosecutor, Mr. Carbonetti’s father stayed in East Harlem, established a printing company and eventually raising three sons with his wife, JoAnna Aniello, a city worker.
A political junkie like his father and childhood friend, Louis took his middle son, Tony, to the 1976 Democratic convention at Madison Square Garden.
“I still have some of the buttons that we bought then,” said Mr. Carbonetti. “My dad just sent me some of the ‘Romney for President’ buttons from 1968. It’s just amazing how much Mitt looks like his dad.”
A year later, the Carbonettis moved to the mostly uninhabited Queens neighborhood of Roosevelt Island. When his parents split, the 13-year-old chose to stay with his father. His two brothers, Louis, now a printer in North Carolina, and Joseph, now the owner of a pub called the Brass Monkey on 12th Street, went to live with their mother in Brooklyn. (Mr. Carbonetti has a third brother through his father’s second marriage.)
Just a few years later, in 1986, Mr. Carbonetti, an A-average high school student at the La Salle Academy on Second Street, went to get career advice from then U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani, who former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern called “a surrogate father to him.”
“‘Become a lawyer,’” Mr. Carbonetti remembers Mr. Giuliani telling him. “Everyone wanted me to be a lawyer. I never listened.”
Boston University didn’t suit Mr. Carbonetti. He said he found his political science major too abstract and unsatisfying. He was restless. So when Mr. Giuliani ran for mayor in 1989, Mr. Carbonetti took a semester off to perform menial tasks on the campaign.
Mr. Giuliani lost to David Dinkins, and Mr. Carbonetti went back to school. When his father’s business went bankrupt in 1990, he ran out of money for tuition. He attended graduation but never received a diploma. The bar he tended to was called Cityside in Boston’s Faneuil Hall.
In 1992, with Mr. Giuliani about to make another run for mayor, Mr. Carbonetti contacted Peter Powers, then Mr. Giuliani’s chief adviser, to offer his services. A few weeks later Mr. Carbonetti was made a deputy director of field operations.
“He was a natural magnet for field workers and really motivated them,” said Mr. Mastro, a former deputy mayor for Mr. Giuliani and fellow member of Mr. Giuliani’s inner circle who played a key role in the 1993 campaign. “You had to sort of create the field operation from the ground up. He was instrumental in building that organization.”
This time Mr. Giuliani won, and Mr. Carbonetti, a 24-year-old registered Democrat who reporters joked had only the qualification “mixologist” to put on his résumé, became “director of appointments,” a post from which he gave out jobs, or more accurately, cleansed the city agencies of any trace of Mr. Dinkins’ influence.
(Mr. Carbonetti’s father also received an administration post, but was forced to resign in 1995 as the result of a financial scandal. His mother received a promotion to a lucrative position at the city’s Housing Authority as Mr. Giuliani prepared to leave office.)
His only prior work experience before his fortuitous City Hall appointment by Mr. Giuliani was as a bartender in Boston.
But loyalty is what counts in Mr. Giuliani’s universe, and in that category, Mr. Carbonetti’s qualifications are unsurpassed.
“I had no allegiance to anyone but Rudy,” said Mr. Carbonetti. “So I guess that made me the perfect guy for that job.”
He would later proved his fealty to Mr. Giuliani by sending the letter to Mr. Giuliani’s then-wife, Donna Hannover, that essentially stripped her of her budget as first lady. He also tagged along with Mr. Giuliani and his future wife, Judith Nathan, on their first public date and stuck close to the former mayor’s side during Sept. 11. After leaving City Hall, he followed Mr. Giuliani to the consulting firm Giuliani Partners.
Mr. Carbonetti, known to other Giuliani loyalists as “Carbo,” says that he has no professional goal other than to help his boss succeed. “I’m hopefully only doing this twice in my life, this time and his reelection,” he said. “I kid you not. And a number of people have told me that that comes across with the way I deal with the consultants and elected officials because there is no life for me, I’m not going to go be a consultant to the R.N.C. or the Republican Senatorial Committee. That’s it. I work for Rudy. And I’ll do this; if he wins, I’ll do it again. But that’s it.”
When asked to explain what it is that he liked so much about Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Carbonetti said, “He’s the smartest guy you’ll ever meet.”
MR. CARBONETTI HAS done his best to keep up, embarking on what has amounted to a campaign-long project of self-improvement.
In January, he participated in a briefing about Iraq with Mr. Giuliani and Mr. King by Iraq “surge” architects Gen. Jack Keane and military scholar Frederick Kagan. He says he takes loads of policy briefing papers home every night to his Upper East Side apartment, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, and talks about his “friends in the Middle East.”
In Mr. Giuliani’s universe, certainly, Mr. Carbonetti taken seriously.
In a pamphlet sent out to key supporters of the campaign at the end of October, Mr. Carbonetti is listed at the top of the campaign hierarchy.
“It goes on for page after page after page,” Guy Molinari, the campaign’s New York co-chair said, describing the pamphlet. “When they list the campaign structure, number one on the list is Tony. He is the number one guy who makes it all go.”
“One of the questions at the beginning of the campaign was, ‘Can a guy whose whole experience has been local adjust to the national scene?’” said Representative Peter King of New York, a supporter of Mr. Giuliani. “And yeah, he has.”
Mr. Carbonetti’s responsibilities now include standing in for Mr. Giuliani when he is out of town, watching the first cuts of commercials for Mr. Giuliani and “immediately pick[ing] out what he won’t like,” he said. He helps recruit and coddle bundlers and supportive elected officials, and gives rundowns of the political state of play on countless conference calls.
He also owns the distinction of the campaign’s designated Nice Guy, helping smooth all the feathers ruffled by his confrontational boss.
This spring, Mr. Carbonetti set up a meeting at the Grand Havana Room cigar bar on Fifth Avenue between Mr. Giuliani and one of his most committed, and potentially problematic, critics: former Republican Senator Alfonse D’Amato of New York.
“He got us to sit together,” said Mr. D’Amato, who supports Fred Thompson. “It was to explore possible opportunities of working together.”
Mr. D’Amato called Mr. Carbonetti a “bridge builder” who “got the trust of the mayor because he earned it the old-fashioned way.”
Mr. Carbonetti has also become responsible for preventing any embarrassing spats from breaking out between Mr. Giuliani and his successor at City Hall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. According to one Bloomberg official, the current administration keeps a “hot line” to Mr. Carbonetti, in order to “keep the temperature down” in the case of any flare-ups between the two mayors or their officials.
Asked about the criticism of Ms. Reiter and others, that he lacked the sufficient seasoning to handle such a momentous job, Mr. Carbonetti reacted with the air of a man who’s heard it all before.
“Peter Powers was in my office not too long ago, and Steve Forbes called,” said Mr. Carbonetti. “And we’re talking about some tax policy stuff and I hang up and Peter goes, ‘Now I have seen it all—Carbo on the phone with Steve Forbes about tax policy. The world is off its axis.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I’ve got to do different things now.’”