The Elephants and the Ants

giulianipataki The Elephants and the AntsRepublicans in New York will have something in 2010 that they’ve lacked for years: a real opportunity to win. What they don’t have are candidates.

There’s been talk for at least a year now that Rudy Giuliani or George Pataki (or both) might run for statewide office next year.

In the right race, either of them could win-and, more importantly, carry down-ballot Republicans into office on their coattails. This is no small concern for a party that’s now locked out of the comptroller’s and attorney general’s offices. When it comes to the New York Republican bench, there are two elephants and a bunch of ants-and nothing in between. And it looks likelier by the day that, despite all the wishful thinking of Republican leaders and activists, the two big guys will be staying on the sidelines in 2010.

Mr. Giuliani, for instance, spent the past year toying with a run for governor. But his bluff was called by the collapse of David Paterson’s governorship, which has made it a nearly certain that Andrew Cuomo-who regularly beats Mr. Giuliani by double-digits in polls-will be the Democratic candidate in ’10.

When The New York Times reported on November 19 that Mr. Giuliani was ready to officially opt out of the governor’s race, his camp (or, at least, a source claiming to know Mr. Giuliani’s thinking) leaked word that he was eyeing a run for the Senate against Kirsten Gillibrand instead-and that an announcement could come within 48 hours. But it’s now been 408 hours (and counting), and not a peep from Rudy. He did, however, sign on last week as a long-term security adviser for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Rudy’s posture feels like a play for visibility, which feeds his ego-and hardly hurts his effort to pay down his White House campaign debt.

Mr. Pataki, meanwhile, has been courted as a potential Senate candidate. As with Mr. Giuliani, polls show he’d be in good position to beat Ms. Gillibrand, who has thus far failed to connect with New Yorkers. But the former governor is showing more interest in currying favor with the incoming mayor of Manchester, N.H. than with county Republican chairmen in New York-a sign that, at 64 years old, he’d rather mount a long-shot (to put it mildly) White House bid than serve as a freshman senator.

After Mr. Giuliani, the next most likely gubernatorial candidate is Rick Lazio. Mr. Lazio currently runs 33 points behind Mr. Cuomo, while Mr. Giuliani is only six points behind. Without a Rudy-like candidate, a repeat of the 2006 governor’s race-when Eliot Spitzer cashed in his A.G.’s popularity for a 42-point win over the anonymous John Faso-looms.

Then there’s Ms. Gillibrand’s Senate seat. Unlike Mr. Cuomo, she’s actually vulnerable-and won’t be protected by the anti-Bush climate that made life difficult for G.O.P. candidates in New York this decade. But the G.O.P. badly needs a star to go against her-especially since she’ll be propped up by Mr. Cuomo and Chuck Schumer, who will also be on next year’s ballot (and who won’t face a serous Republican challenge).

So far, though, the G.O.P. is looking at a C-list Senate field: Larchmont Mayor Liz Feld (who was trounced in a State Senate race last fall), Bruce Blakeman (trounced for comptroller in 1998), and Mike Balboni (who quit the State Senate to join Mr. Spitzer’s administration) are the likely candidates.

Certainly, it matters who the Republicans nominate for those down-ballot offices next year. But with Messrs. Giuliani and Pataki out, the Democrats will have the two most popular politicians at the top of their ticket next year-and the G.O.P. will have no one. That should make Republicans very uneasy: To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, success trickles down.