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.