Rudy Giuliani, who's looking at a presidential do-over after falling from first to last in 2008, faces long odds of becoming the Granite State’s next “Comeback Kid.”
The former New York City mayor, scorched in his presidential campaign in this friendly-to-moderates New England state, remains a draw as a national celebrity and received a standing ovation Friday night when he was introduced to Manchester Republicans as “America’s Mayor.”
But if he went for a repeat in 2012, he would face a crushing load of amends to make with the state’s voters. He'd have to do things “the New Hampshire way” — sitting in strangers’ living rooms, eating off their dishes, and holding town hall meetings, over and over again.
The 2012 election, a cycle featuring a slew of candidates with prior runs and musty careers, would clearly be Giuliani's last gasp at a national race, since the space he occupies in the national party may be filled next time by another former prosecutor, Chris Christie.
Yet so far, even some supporters are puzzled about whether he really wants it.
“I'd like to see him come back here — [but] for president, I don't know,” said Kimberly Desmarais, a waitress at Blake’s Family Restaurant, the site of Giuliani’s first retail stop during the 2008 cycle. “I would love it if he would come back [to the diner], I think he’s an amazing gentleman."
But Desmarais, who voted for Giuliani last time, added, “I watched him on [local TV station] WMUR the other day, and I just didn't see him [seeming] very secure about wanting to run. I don't think it's something he really, really wants to do. I don’t know if he’s 100 percent."
Even after his battering last time, his supporters argue and detractors concede that Giuliani could have a path in a state where social moderates have fared well, largely among independent voters who can take part in the state’s open primary system and don’t have a race on the Democratic side.
Giuliani would have to focus not on the terror attacks that made him famous, but instead on what could make him relevant in recession-era, tea party-laced 2012 politics.
His personal credo would have to be “Live Here or Die.”
Pat Rueppel, who worked on Giuliani’s last campaign and attended his speech Friday, sounded frustrated as she said, “I’m not getting any indications at all. I keep asking the people that are close to him. ... But I think he’s going to run — gut feeling. He’ll have to do a lot. If I was a campaign manager, the first thing I would have him do is hit the bricks and walk the state. ... He has to put himself out there.”
“He may have done some damage [last time],” said Cliff Hurst, the former state GOP chairman who until recently also was head of the Manchester GOP. “People had wished he had spent more time here. I think he just felt that he didn’t need to spend that much time. New Hampshire people are very sensitive about that — they want to meet the guy four or five times, and build those relationships and that didn’t happen.”
So far, the former mayor is revealing little.
“I don’t know,” Giuliani said to reporters at several points during his two days in New Hampshire, when asked what factors would clinch his decision in either direction. He said he would get in if he thought he could win and could “make a difference,” although he also demurred about a potential time frame.
“People aren’t gonna climb up [on] the train unless they know where it’s going,” said Ray Weiczorek, the former mayor of Manchester and a New Hampshire GOP elder statesman, who was a Giuliani supporter in 2008. “I guess we’re going to do some talking. Obviously I like him.”
Chris Wood, a prominent operative who was with Giuliani before switching to John McCain's camp, argued the season is already under way.
Ticking off a list of recent 2012 visitors that have included Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, Wood said, “I think it would be hard, really hard, to wait till September and try to pull the trigger in September.”
There were signs that Giuliani moves differently now across the national stage. He went from table to table, without aides or a “body man,” shaking hands and posing for pictures. Relaxed at the podium, Giuliani mentioned his two-term mayoralty several times, but spent more time hitting President Barack Obama and current New Hampshire front-runner Mitt Romney than making a case for himself.
The former mayor himself barely touched on the topic that dominated his 2008 campaign — the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Yet it’s clearly what many identified him for and wanted to hear discussed. He was introduced with repeated references to Sept. 11, 2001, by Manchester GOP chairman Jeff Frost — himself an American Airlines pilot who almost ended up at the controls of the first jet that hit the twin towers.
Even before they sat down, attendees were presented with pins saying “Never Forget.”
Still, that “isn’t the central theme” now, said Ovide Lamontagne, the tea party-backed U.S. Senate hopeful who lost last year’s GOP primary to Kelly Ayotte. “He might talk about it as a conversational item [but] I don’t think he needs to spend time there.”
Lamontagne, who's emerging as a power broker that presidential hopefuls need to court in New Hampshire, met privately with Giuliani on Friday.
“I was a little surprised, frankly, that he was emerging on the scene,” Lamontagne told POLITICO. “He’s not sure he’s the guy. ... I take him at his word he is trying to figure out whether he’s the candidate, and I really think that’s refreshing.”
“The whole message of this campaign is going to be there’s a perceived void in leadership,” said Wayne Semprini, the former New Hampshire state GOP chairman and Giuliani’s state chair in the 2008 race.
So far, Giuliani hasn’t set another New Hampshire trip. But squired by Semprini, he spent two days in meetings. He had dinner with activists, including some who did not support him before, in Portsmouth at an Italian restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day, Semprini said, declining to say who attended. Friday morning, Giuliani had breakfast at a restaurant owned by Semprini’s sons in Portsmouth suburb Greenland. From there, Giuliani had lunch with Wieczorek and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas at Z, a metro-chic restaurant on Elm Street, before meeting with newly-elected state GOP chairman Jack Kimball.
Giuliani would offer himself as the alternative to Romney, who captured 32 percent of the vote last time to John McCain’s 37 percent. A recent WMUR poll showed Romney leading the pack at 40 percent, with Giuliani a distant second place, at 10 percent.
Giuliani’s path, according to Semprini, would be less fundraising-driven than last time, offering a center-right alternative and that would appeal to the state’s roughly 40 percent swath of independent voters, most of whom voted in the Democratic primary last time.
“He’s going to appeal to tea party Republicans, he’s going to appeal to tea party independents, he’s going to appeal to moderate independents,” said Semprini, arguing tea party members are more concerned about fiscal issues and national security than the social issues where Giuliani tacks moderate. “In this field, I believe he’s the most electable."