During a recent appearance by Rudy Giuliani on CNN, a box flashed under his orange tan and orange tie identifying him first as "Fmr. GOP Presidential Candidate" and then "Fmr. New York City Mayor."
Mr. Giuliani is in danger of being a permanent "Fmr."
If he wants to have a public future outside of cable commentary gigs, his options now seem limited to one elected office: governor of the State of New York. His most loyal backers are already starting to lay down the foundation for such a campaign.
Here's what Randy Mastro, the former deputy mayor and close Giuliani associate, said in response to a question from The Observer about the possibility of the former mayor running: "If ever New York State needed strong leadership in this fiscal crisis, it's today. And the one thing we know for sure is that Rudy Giuliani is a strong leader who led our city through its fiscal crisis in the early '90s. So New York State could use him now more than ever."
In conversations with Republicans around the state, a couple of other candidates come up regularly as potential challengers to weaker-by-the-day Governor David Paterson next year.
Officials and consultants talk about Rick Lazio, the former congressman who ran unsuccessfully for Senate against Hillary Clinton in 2000. They mention Edward Cox, a lawyer (and son-in-law of Richard M. Nixon) who ran even more unsuccessfully for the Senate seat in 2006.
But Mr. Giuliani, undeclared though he is, is widely acknowledged as the 800-pound G.O.P. gorilla in the room.
It should be said that it is very, very early in the campaign season, and that there is as of now no hard evidence that Mr. Giuliani has resolved to run. He has yet to make any formal foray into the race, and has not reached out to Republican chairs around the state.
"He hasn't made his mind up as to his political future," said Anthony Carbonetti, a senior political adviser to Mr. Giuliani. "He obviously loves the city and state very much, but he has not given thought to the point where he has made a decision."
But with a unique résumé, a national fund-raising base that is at least partly intact and near-universal name recognition, Mr. Giuliani may find it all too much for him to resist, his supporters seem to believe.
"Rudy and some of Rudy's people have always thought that he would excel more at an executive position rather than a legislative position," said the former congressman Guy Molinari, adding, "As the days go by and I talk to various people, more and more I'm encouraged that some of his close friends believe that he is going to run."
"Rudy has got instant name recognition," said Robert Christman, the Republican chairman in Allegany County. "Obviously, he came off the platform at the convention with a lot of enthusiasm; he is probably at this point the candidate with the most plausibility. There's no doubt about that."
Mr. Christman said neither he nor any of the other Republican County chairs he knows had been formally approached by Mr. Giuliani or his emissaries.
"But there has been a lot of informal communication about him," Mr. Christman added. "In conversation with the various chairs and politicals in the Republican Party, his name has come up, and obviously that's the beginning of the process."
At the same time, Mr. Giuliani's name has also been circulated by supporters of his potential opponents, and in a less flattering light. They bring up Mr. Giuliani's ill-fated presidential run, in which he failed to win a single primary or delegate, and question whether all the "America's Mayor" imagery still has much currency with New York voters.
There's also the matter of Mr. Giuliani's last high-profile appearance at the Republican National Convention, which didn't exactly have crossover appeal. His malicious mocking of Mr. Obama, the current president of the United States, as a "community organizer" did not go over big with Democrats, and New York, ultimately, has a lot of them.
And New York Republicans with even longer memories are bothered less by the haphazard 2008 campaign than by memories of Mr. Giuliani's last statewide campaign. That would be the Senate bid in 2000 that ended, officially, with the mayor withdrawing to deal with a diagnosis of prostate cancer, but which was preceded by much public indecision about whether to commit to the race and, more memorably, a public declaration of love by Mr. Giuliani for his mistress while he was still married.
"One thing that needs to be watched for is what happened last time," said one longtime ally of Mr. Lazio. "Rick wanted to get in early. Giuliani announces, and Rick is pushed aside by the Republican leadership until Giuliani got sick with five months to go in the race. So if Giuliani is going to do it, he can't play his Hamlet routine back and forth and decide later on. He needs to actually step up, and then Rick can make his decision about what he is going to do."
(Mr. Lazio entered the 2000 race late and suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of Mrs. Clinton.)
"This is 2000 all over again," said one influential Republican consultant not allied with any of the prospective candidates. "Lazio trying to take action to potentially forestall somebody else's candidacy, but having no real capacity to do so until Rudy makes up his mind. I think we've all seen this movie."
This time, though, the stakes for Mr. Giuliani are higher.
Even his closest supporters acknowledge that his options for returning to public life are limited. Even if he ran for and won a Senate seat, at 64, he's too old (and too Republican) to have much of a chance of wielding any real influence before retirement age.
As for running for mayor again one day-he's allowed-his supporters are taking a been-there, done-that attitude. The presidential thing didn't work out, and people in the Giuliani camp acknowledge that the idea of another two-year race is stomach-turning.
Which leaves governor.
"It's a lot easier," said one source close to Mr. Giuliani.
"There may be a lot of people licking their chops," said Lowell Conrad, a Republican chairman from Livingston County. "But when it comes down to it, it's got to be someone who has enough money to win a statewide race."
Some supporters of Mr. Lazio expressed a suspicion that Mr. Giuliani's flirtations with a run were motivated by his need to heighten his political profile to benefit his once-booming consulting business, Giuliani Partners. At the beginning of the year, Mr. Giuliani's longtime spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, left the firm.
Then again, one source close to Mr. Giuliani pointed out that another former Giuliani operative, Matt Mahoney, was already working to prepare the road for a potential run for governor. Mr. Mahoney is a former Giuliani advance man who did a stint in the State Senate before joining Mayor Michael Bloomberg's reelection campaign last month to help build the mayor's support among Republicans.
According to the source, part of Mr. Mahoney's unofficial role, both in the Senate and with Mr. Bloomberg, was smoothing out any remaining hard feelings toward Mr. Giuliani. His time spent with Mr. Bloomberg's highly funded campaign is also expected to give Mr. Mahoney, and the Giuliani universe, more up-to-date state and city experience after the decade or so Mr. Giuliani spent on the national scene, the source said.
One thing Giuliani supporters and critics both seem to believe is that he's unlikely to jump in unless it looks like a reasonably sure thing.
"Certainly he knows that if he runs and loses, it's a disaster," said an adviser to Mr. Lazio. "So I think he waits to see what happens with Paterson."
"If a poll came out tomorrow that said Mao Zedong could be a competitive nominee for governor," said the influential Republican consultant, "lots of Republicans would be for him."