Rudy's Last Gasp

rudy 3 Rudy's Last GaspOn Friday evening, after a cup of broccoli soup, a plate of chicken and a few sips of red wine, Rudy Giuliani took to the stage in the ballroom of the Executive Court banquet hall and prepared to let loose.

With Mitt Romney leading the primary polls by a mile in New Hampshire, and Barack Obama in the White House, the former mayor and dud presidential candidate of 2008 wanted to talk about leadership.

“This president has been a failure in just about every single thing he’s done,” Mr. Giuliani told the 100 or so die-hard Republicans who had come for the Manchester G.O.P’s annual Lincoln Reagan dinner. “He has ruined our economy. He is ruining our health care.”

As he got rolling, the arms of his dark suit gesticulated wildly around his emerald green tie. He called attention to his bullet points with a prodding finger, leaned on the podium, stepped out from beside it, removed and replaced his glasses for comic effect and, at one point, raised a big outstretched palm and brought it crushing down upon our liberties.

On the president’s handling of Libya, he said he had “never witnessed a worse case of presidential decision making. Or lack of decision making. Or conduct of foreign policy. Ever.”

And he criticized the president for leaving it to Congress to hash out the health care bill, and for not leading enough on energy policy. “Because he’s a follower,” Mr. Giuliani said. He mocked a stutter to capture Mr. Obama’s perceived hesitancy to implementing a no-fly zone, which, in Mr. Giuliani’s telling, he did only after being convinced by France and the United Nations.

“No fly zones are r-r-r-r-eally, really hard,” he said, to big laughs.

Four years after he abruptly pulled out of the nation’s first primary, in favor of a big-state strategy that ended in disaster, Mr. Giuliani was back in New Hampshire, promoting himself as a potential presidential contender and aggressively trying to make amends.

For Mr. Giuliani–who last year passed on rumored runs for the governor’s mansion and the Senate–any last hope for higher office would have to begin here, with the good people of the Granite State, where his profile as a moderate Republican with a reputation for leadership could still resonate, at least in theory.

Building some fresh buzz around the Giuliani brand would seem to be a no-lose proposition, what with his slew of self-titled businesses, but there are those who think Mr. Giuliani could do much better than that.

“If he runs, he stands a strong chance of either winning, or coming in second place,” said Andrew Smith, who directs the Granite State Poll at the University of New Hampshire, where the latest survey has Mr. Giuliani running a distant second to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

On Friday night, Mr. Giuliani’s pitch had a particular New Hampshire bent. He avoided mentioning the social issues on which he and the state’s Republicans might diverge–in 2008, he had tried to split the difference with the G.O.P. base on abortion, gay marriage and gun control by casting them as issues best left to the states–and opted instead to praise the state’s Tea Party and to portray resistance to the administration’s health care bill as a “Live Free or Die” struggle against tyranny.

“I’ve always believed the emotion of the Tea Party is because it reaches into something deeper in an American’s soul, which is, ‘They’re taking our freedom away,'” he told The Observer in a back room before the speech, in between posing for pictures with the evening’s V.I.P.’s, who had paid $100 for the privilege.

“This president appears to want to have an America where Americans have less to say about their future, and the government has more to say about your future. And if you know New Hampshire, you know that’s a very powerful theme in New Hampshire. Live free or die.” He rocked back in his chair and let out a commanding laugh. “Wow, that’s a powerful thought, right?”

Mr. Giuliani said he might even be capable of carrying the Tea Party mantle. “I think if the Tea Party looks at my record, they would find a lot of things to like,” he said.

Asked if his disastrous showing last time–when he leveraged his front-runner status into one lone delegate–might hurt his chances, Mr. Giuliani shrugged.

“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see. I don’t know the answer to that yet. When I know the answer to that, I’ll tell you–when I’m running or not running.”

 

It’s easy to forget, but in the fall of 2007, Mr. Giuliani was virtually tied with Mr. Romney in New Hampshire, and was constructing a campaign infrastructure that seemed capable of capturing the first primary state from its neighboring governor. But as Senator John McCain roared back to life and began to siphon away the state’s moderate voters, Mr. Giuliani’s campaign shifted its time and money to focus on the bigger prizes in Florida and California. He finished a distant fourth in New Hampshire, trailing even Mike Huckabee, with just 8 percent of the vote.

On Friday, it was clear the mayor had some making up to do.

“I’m not a political strategist, but I know those of us who wore our emotions on our sleeves really wanted him to stick around a little longer,” said Donna Waterman, a 2008 campaign volunteer, who came to see Mr. Giuliani, gave him a big hug and said she would work for him again.

But Mr. Giuliani had been having problems even before he left.

“He kind of came in and went out,” said Cliff Hurst, who chaired the local party in 2004 and 2005. “People didn’t have a chance to have a conversation and shake hands. They’re really used to being pampered and getting a lot of attention, and I’m not sure they got that.”

“I saw him in person a couple of time and was just kind of stunned with some of the things he came in with, like two bodyguards in front of him walking through the Rotary Club, as if somebody was going to reach out and stab him with a butter knife,” said Mr. Smith, the University of New Hampshire pollster.

“The emcee in both places was instructed to say, ‘Now the mayor is very busy, can you please stay in your seats until he leaves,'” Mr. Smith recalled. “And the only reason those people are there in the first place is to go get their picture taken or get an autograph from the guy. So it’s like every room he goes to, he ticks off everybody in the room.”

Mr. Giuliani seemed to have learned his lesson.

“If everybody could start sitting down, the Nation’s Mayor will stop by each table and say hello,” said the emcee, as Mr. Giuliani worked his way across the room, shaking hands and touching shoulders.

“Wanna get a picture?” he asked one man, flashing his gargantuan grin.

In front of the cash bar near the door, a woman posed for a picture and implored him to stick around this time. He joked like he was walking out the door, before telling her, “I’m here for you, I’m not going anywhere.”

Whatever hard feelings may linger about Mr. Giuliani’s early departure in 2008, to the crowd that came out on Friday night, he will always be the man who led New York City through the depths of Sept. 11.

A few “Never Forget” pins were handed out at the door, and Mr. Giuliani paused from the podium to recognize one of them.

“Thank you for wearing it. I really appreciate that,” he said. And he pointed to a middle table to acknowledge Tim Brown, a New York firefighter (and staunch Giuliani supporter) who responded to the attacks and is now suing to stop the proposed mosque near the World Trade Center site.

But, for the man whose message Joe Biden once mocked as “a noun, a verb and 9/11,” that was it. If the crowd had come expecting his hit song, it got a few new riffs instead.

Mr. Giuliani presumed, as usual, that his status as a leader during those days could go unstated.

“You kind of get the feeling that people think we’re starved for leadership, and he wrote the
book on leadership, literally,” said Wayne Semprini, the well-tanned former chairman of the state party, referring to the mayor’s book Leadership, which was a best seller when it was published in 2002.

Mr. Semprini ran Mr. Giuliani’s 2008 campaign in New Hampshire, and he talked up the possibilities for another run, even as the mayor’s aides–including Jake Menges, a former City Hall hand who was traveling with him–went to great pains to emphasize that this was not a campaign trip, and that the boss was simply reconnecting with old friends to whom he still owes a debt of gratitude.

Of course, those old friends happen to be the same ones who could form the foundation for a future run.

On Thursday night, Mr. Semprini hosted a small, 10-person dinner at Ristorante Massimo, a swanky Italian restaurant in downtown Portsmouth, next to a seashell shop that offers psychic readings on the weekends.

The next morning, led by Mr. Semprini, the mayor and a modest entourage had breakfast in Greenland with Sean Mahoney, a former Republican committeeman, and then made their way down to Manchester to have lunch with the current mayor, Ted Gatsas, and a former mayor, Ray Wieczorek, who was one of his staunchest supporters four years ago.

He also met with Ovide Lamontagne, a Tea Party candidate who narrowly lost a Senate primary last year.

“It’s hard not to be moved by the passion and the sincerity that he has,” said Mr. Lamontagne, who has emerged as a conservative power broker to be courted by the primary candidates.

“I hope he gets in, I really do. I think he will be a wonderful spokesman for the particular approach he would take, which would be a little different than I think most other candidates would bring.”

Whether Mr. Giuliani actually wants to do the gripping-and-grinning required of the Granite State is another matter.

On Friday afternoon, he and the entourage pulled in to Blowin’ Smoke, an upstairs cigar lounge in a small shopping center in Bedford, where about 30 gentlemen were celebrating the end of the work week in high-backed leather chairs beneath big screen TVs.

Mr. Giuliani bought a medium-bodied Arturo Fuente, hand-rolled in the Dominican Republic, for $10.

“He didn’t do a lot of shmoozing,” said Tyler Shea, whose family owns the store. “In fact, a lot of the guys thought it was kind of cool, because he just went in the back and threw on Fox News and chilled out and smoked his stogie.” (Later, when a Fox News microphone fell from the podium during his speech, Mr. Giuliani returned it to its perch. “Gotta make sure Fox stays up there. It’s all we have!” he said.)

At one point, the mayor ducked into Blowin’ Smoke’s back office to do a phone interview. After an hour or so, he bought a selection of cigars and left. “It was great; we hope he comes back soon,” Mr. Shea said.

 

Unlike some of his potential competitors for the nomination, with their lucrative Fox contracts, Mr. Giuliani wouldn’t seem to have much to lose in making another run.

His consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, has scaled back considerably from its halcyon days in the mid-2000s. In 2007, the firm sold off its investment banking arm, Giuliani Capital Partners, and last year it vacated its flagship office at Times Square to share space with his law office, Giuliani & Bracewell, in midtown.

The firm’s most ambitious partnership since Mr. Giuliani’s election loss–a $500 million to $750 million real estate fund designed–tried to launch into the turbulent market of 2008, but failed to get off the ground.

And, while he is hardly at the apex of his early-2000s popularity, he remains a relatively sought-after public speaker. Last Monday, in Portland, Ore., he delivered his “Perseverance” speech to yet another Get Motivated! business conference, a speech he’ll give again in Memphis on March 28, in Grand Rapids on April 14 and in St. Louis on April 27. (“Only $1.95 per person or send your entire office for only $9.95!” says the Web site.)

“If you told me 20 years ago, when he left making a million bucks a year as a lawyer–when a million bucks was a lot of money–and he had young kids, then it was a big deal going back into government,” said a source close to him. “At this point in his life, he’s got money, he doesn’t have young kids anymore–it’s a totally different world.”

But while Mr. Giuliani ponders, his potential opponents are taking up residence.

Mitt Romney has long had a house in New Hampshire, where he owns a sizable lead on the other hopefuls.

The former House speaker Newt Gingrich was in Nashua, N.H., one day ahead of Mr. Giuliani, for a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast and said he’ll announce a decision in “five or six weeks.”

On Monday, Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, became the first to form an exploratory committee, and he has been spotted of late in a black SUV with New Hampshire vanity plates that read T-PAW.

Last month, Mr. Pawlenty attended a house party thrown by Mr. Lamontagne, who is inviting all the prospective candidates to appear at his home, including Mr. Giuliani.

“I invited him to come and spoke with his people, and they’re interested in doing that,” Mr. Lamontagne said.

So far, no date has been set, and Mr. Giuliani is vague about when and what will ultimately determine his decision.

“An analysis and a feeling that you could make a big difference and that you have a good chance,” he told The Observer. “But you have to come to that point, and I’m not at that point yet.”

Just in case he gets to that point, Mr. Giuliani seems to be casting aspersions on the front-runner.

After his speech, he retreated to the same back room, where he cautioned reporters that Mr. Romney might have a difficult time explaining away his health care mandate in Massachusetts.

“For his own good, he’s got to straighten this out. This will be a much bigger problem than people realize,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me about it for the last two months, from here. Calling me and telling me. People who might be interested in supporting him. So I think he’s got to deal with it. And if he isn’t, he’s not being realistic.”

Mr. Giuliani said “the other candidates” would certainly be making an issue of it. “I’m not sure I’m running, so I’m just raising it.”

But the criticism also comes more subtly, and without prompting.

Asked about the Tea Party’s role in winnowing the field, Mr. Giuliani said it “will work really well” in New Hampshire, given the overlap between the Tea Party’s core values and those of the state’s electorate.

“Because a lot of New Hampshire is kind of a reaction to Massachusetts,” he explained. “This is a state where people appreciate the fact there isn’t an income tax. Many of them moved here from Massachusetts because they felt the government spent too much money, wasn’t as efficient.”

Mr. Giuliani stood for a few more photographs, then hustled off toward Boston for a charity event the next day.

“I leave very exhilarated,” Mr. Giuliani said. “They were a lot of fun. They were terrific. But you know, if you’re not running, they always treat you much nicer. You only find out when you actually start running.”

rpillifant@observer.com