New York Republicans are completely out of power for the first time in four decades. Democrats rule the executive and legislative branches and hold 26 of 29 seats in Congress. On the fringes of this grim political tableau hovers a larger-than-life figure who won worldwide acclaim as America's Mayor after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Rudy Giuliani, considered the GOP's best chance for redemption, has a new nickname: Rudy the Savior.
Just over a week ago, the Marist College poll found 47 percent of New York voters favored Giuliani compared to 46 percent for incumbent Democratic Gov. David Paterson. Paterson was 10 percentage points ahead in November. And a Siena College poll last week gave Giuliani a 60 percent approval -- the best he's done since March 2007.
State Republican Chairman Joseph Mondello says he has already talked to Giuliani about running.
“I'm coming away cautiously optimistic,'' Mondello said. “The conversations I've had with him, and we've had a few, certainly are promising ... he would energize the party.''
Giuliani isn't talking. He took a sound beating in his run for the GOP's presidential nomination and the former mob prosecutor continues to make millions in his global consulting firm. But he doesn't have to speak on his own behalf.
"I certainly think there is a groundswell developing among New Yorkers for his kind of leadership in these difficult times,'' said Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor to Giuliani.
Mastro wouldn't describe his conversations with Giuliani.
The math is clear. Giuliani would do well in the suburbs and upstate, like most Republicans do. Unlike most Republicans, he'll also grab a big share of vote-rich New York City, thanks mostly to his Sept. 11 leadership. Paterson will be an unelected governor from Harlem who rose to power after Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace in March 2007.
Giuliani is considering nonpolitical factors as well, including his five-year old marriage and his growing business, Giuliani Partners, a global consultant company that advises on security and emergency management.
“But I believe that public service in his soul,'' Mondello said. “This stuff gets into your blood.''
The party has pushed Giuliani for governor for more than a decade and he's said no every time. (In 2000, he launched what promised to be a titanic contest against Hillary Rodham Clinton for the U.S. Senate, only to drop out when he was diagnosed with cancer.)
The Sept. 11 attacks kept him busy leading the city until he left office under term limits in 2001.
“I'm not running for governor. I'm voting for Governor (George) Pataki,'' Giuliani said that November of the 2002 race. Of polls showing him wildly popular, Giuliani said: “Some of it has a lot to do with an immediate emotional reaction to everything that's going on right now.''
He has not always been the party's darling. Giuliani sparked hard feelings in 1994 when he endorsed incumbent Democrat Gov. Mario Cuomo over Pataki.
Mondello said current Democratic control of government presents an opportunity.
“It's going to be a little difficult blaming the Republican Party for their mistakes,'' he said.
So far, the mistakes include three Democratic senators who threatened to defect and end the party's majority before it started; resignations amid scandal by Spitzer and Comptroller Alan Hevesi; Paterson's dramatic drop in the polls in January after failing to get the Legislature to cut spending despite historic deficits; and his bungled, secretive selection process to appoint a U.S. senator.
As a counterweight, Republicans say Giuliani would bring order and action. As a prosecutor and mayor, he beat intransigent vexes from squeegee men to mobsters, smut on Times Square and the city's once staggering crime rates. He wasn't always popular for his crusades, but his national leadership after the 2001 terror attacks tempered all but the most ardent critics.
But is Giuliani serious about running for governor? Is it a trial balloon? Is it just good for business?
“It can be, as we say in surveys, all of the above,'' Marist pollster Lee Miringoff said.
“Clearly the state Republican Party statewide has gotten its clock cleaned in the last election cycles, so the idea that there may be a well-known, potential strong candidate comes as welcome news to the New York Republican Party,'' Miringoff said.
“I think right now the party statewide is in desperate need of leadership and so is the state,'' said Republican state Sen. Thomas Libous of Broome County. “I liken the Republican Party as of the Chrysler of the '80s. Maybe the state is in that position, too.
Maybe Rudy Giuliani is the Lee Iacocca of our times.''
Republicans are looking for signs. This week, Newsday reported that Giuliani's wife, Judith, sold property in her hometown of Hazleton, Pa., which could signal Giuliani will always be a New Yorker. And he's been all over TV, blasting the Illinois governor's scandal, rebutting Democratic President Barack Obama's fight against large corporate compensation, opining on Fox News and being featured in a political satire special of “Saturday Night Live.''
“It's not a surprise they are looking for a savior,'' said Democratic Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester. “They are desperate.''