He was on political life support after his disastrous 2008 presidential run, but Rudy Giuliani has positioned himself in a critical year as a potent Republican fundraiser and the party’s star surrogate for hammering the White House on terror.
After deciding against a run for governor after a prolonged flirtation with a bid, the former New York City mayor has upped his political and paid-speaking travel schedule. In June, he’ll make his first public visit to New Hampshire since the single-digit, fourth-place finish there in the January 2008 Republican presidential primary that triggered his fast fall from front-runner to also-ran.
His high-profile reemergence, coinciding with the return of terror to the national headlines and numerous Sunday shows appearances bashing the president on the issue, leaves little doubt that he wants to be in the national mix. What’s less clear is what Giuliani is looking for in his next act.
"He wants to be part of the game in 2012," said Fred Siegel, a former adviser to the mayor and author of "The Prince of the City," a history of his time in office, who still talks to him periodically.
Giuliani, Siegel said, is trying to keep his options open for the future by being part of "the game," but isn’t necessarily angling to run for office again.
"As a presidential candidate? Not necessarily," Siegel said, suggesting that Giuliani could instead try to make himself a cabinet appointee or try for something else with national influence. The last New York mayor elected to any higher office, he noted, was John T. Hoffman – in 1869.
"But there is a strong, and I think justified, sense that there's a reasonable chance that (President Obama could) be a one-term president…It seems to me it's all in play."
That, of course, remains to be seen. Giuliani will find out the mood of voters in New Hampshire in June, when he heads north to help the Republican state senate there fundraise, tend to some business for his private firms, and be honored by the New Hampshire Political Library, whose mission is preserving the state’s first-in-the-nation primary.
Giuliani’s political obituary has been written repeatedly, only for him to spring back to life each time.
It happened when he won office in 1993 after his first run for mayor in 1989 fell short in a racially charged campaign, and again when the response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks catapulted him from unpopular lame duck to “America’s mayor,” and yet again when he emerged as a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination after President Bush’s nomination of his former Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik fell apart amid scandal.
But after $56 million spent on a 2008 “Florida strategy” that garnered just one Republican delegate nationwide, the mayor may be in search of one more revival: A fourth act.
Even with the memory of 9/11 fading – and with the dings he took from now-Vice President Joe Biden in the 2008 race about “a noun, a verb and 9/11” – Giuliani is still regarded as the best Republican spokesman on the national security issue. And the party’s governor-dominated roster of likely 2012 candidate lacks anyone with his anti-terror bona fides, an issue increasingly seen as a sore point for the White House.
Despite the sense among opinion-makers and insiders that a second national run in a Republican primary would be a heavy lift for a social moderate who governed a left-leaning city, never held statewide office, and whose personal life has repeatedly come under scrutiny – the wide-open Republican field and the riled-up electorate make it impossible to rule out.
A close Giuliani ally, though, insisted another presidential run is the least likely path, saying he’s more interested in being part of the discussion nationally, including on the deficit.
“I don’t know if that means trying to be a surrogate, or maybe trying for a cabinet appointment,” the ally said. A future run in New York seems pretty unlikely, that person said, and not necessarily something he’d want. Albany is a long ways from the klieg lights of Manhattan, and the governor’s powers relative to the intractable state legislature pale compared to the dominance over the City Council he enjoyed as mayor.
While his presidential run both demonstrated and added to Giuliani’s sustained national celebrity, it didn’t translate into votes. Rather than wage a second campaign more than a decade after leaving office, Giuliani could remain an uber-surrogate for Republicans on specific issues, which would allow him to continue making money at his law firm, which is doing well, and at his consulting practice, which was heavily pared down after his last run. Being in the public eye as a surrogate augments the business without exposing that business to the scrutiny a national race would draw.
Giuliani has been making appearances in Texas, especially on behalf of Rick Perry, and has been increasing his speechifying for “Get Motivated,” which pay him well while allowing him to reach big crowds across the nation.
At age 66 and despite a brand that took a substantial hit after 2008, he still manages to capture public fascination and admiration.
Giuliani was one of the few surrogates brought in to help Scott Brown in his come-from-nowhere Massachusetts Senate run, which became a loud signal of fear for incumbents everywhere. And he campaigned for New Jersey’s new Republican governor, Chris Christie, who’s widely seen as basing his efforts in office on the “Giuliani 1993” governing playbook.
Another point that could make Giuliani relevant now nationally is the austerity he prided himself on in his first mayoral term well before 9/11, which was a major factor in making him a national star, the transformative figure who fixed the rotten Big Apple.
In the era of trillion dollar deficits and a slow-receding recession, that point is one he could test-drive on TV, or even while in New Hampshire.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), an early Giuliani supporter and the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said he’s fielded “dozens” of requests from campaigns for the mayor to help candidates around the country.
“It’s no secret why Rudy is one of our most sought-after surrogates,” said Sessions. “He remains one of the most popular voices in the Republican party and he has the credibility to warn about the danger of Democrat policies that are making America less safe.”
What Giuliani himself wants remains harder to discern – he repeatedly has left the door open to a presidential run in recent months, despite being obviously embarrassed by the last effort, and wishing he could make amends for it.
“I made a series of mistakes when I ran for president, but this was probably the biggest one that you could correct in the future if somebody wanted to correct it,” Giuliani recently told the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, citing his decision to bypass Iowa and New Hampshire.
At the least, Giuliani enjoys being relevant – it’s good for his brand, good for business and clearly something he enjoys. It's also something that happens without much effort, since he can still command headlines easily.
Some supporters argue privately that he can figure out what that could parlay into after the 2010 midterm congressional races, when it will be far clearer where the national mood is headed for the presidential race.
Certain other realities are hard to overcome – Giuliani is $1.1 million in debt from the last campaign, although some insiders say he’s still moving toward paying it off, and many donors remain angry with how the effort concluded.
He finished with 9 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, where Sen. John McCain was the winner, and earned the ire of voters for not committing whole-heartedly to the primary there. Former New York Gov. George Pataki, who shares similar pedigree traits to Giuliani, also appears to be considering a presidential run in 2012.
“It’s true the field is pretty open, and there’s no one who has caught on, [but] I don’t think (Giuliani) can run again,” said one veteran GOP strategist, who said the problems with independent-minded New Hampshire voters after not competing there were substantial and adding that the distance from his time in office and from the 9/11 attacks make 2012 a harder lift.
“He owns the national security franchise,” said GOP strategist Scott Reed, adding that the issue is indeed emerging as an “Achilles heel” for Democrats and the White House and it’s one that the former mayor is still called on to press.
But he also said that if the Republicans take back the House in the fall, the GOP nominee’s job becomes more difficult because they are then seen as part of the governmental problem in 2012 – and the difficulty of finding a path for Giuliani through the conservative-dominated early primaries would still exist.
Wayne Semprini, the former New Hampshire GOP chairman who was also the former mayor’s chairman in the state in 2008, readily said that many voters remain upset about the outcome of that primary.
“At first what they do is, they blame the mayor for not spending more time in New Hampshire,” said Semprini, insisting the ex-mayor had no choice because he was raising money elsewhere. “I was pretty peeved at his campaign. We needlessly went through all sorts of gyrations that we didn’t (have to).”
But he said the way things have turned out, “[t]here are people that go out of their way to tell me they wish Rudy was president…some of the people who did not vote for him, but wish they did.”
He said that Giuliani has since acknowledged that he and others tried to warn him his approach was wrong, though added that the mayor has sent no signals that he wants to run again.
“There’s nothing I’ve seen that indicates he’s willing to do that,” he said, but added that he didn’t rule it out, saying, “His abilities far transcend” his past issues.