The 2012 Republican primary is already well under way. His old campaign staff is mostly scattered to the winds. He still owes nearly $3 million from his 2008 presidential bid.
Despite those obstacles, Rudy Giuliani says he’s seriously considering another White House run – a bid that would look dramatically different than his campaign four years ago.
“My thinking is that I still have time to decide. So I’m going to take it … the race is developing very slowly compared to, maybe not necessarily historical races, but compared to 2007, which is what I’m used to,” he told POLITICO. “My focus when I sit down to decide will be, do I think any of the people running, or a few of them, have a good chance of beating President Obama or not?”
This time around, Giuliani’s fiscal record as New York City mayor would be the centerpiece. New Hampshire would be the key state in his strategy – as opposed to Florida, where he placed his big bet last time. The focus would be on winning over fiscally minded Republicans and a chunk of the independents who can vote in the state’s open Republican primary, an approach resembling John McCain’s in 2008. The expectation is that without a contested Democratic primary, there will be more independent voters who cast votes in the GOP contest.
“I think John had exactly the right strategy,” he said, referring to his win-New Hampshire approach.
The newest piece of evidence that Giuliani is looking seriously at New Hampshire: for the first time in two years, he now has a designated spokeswoman – and she’s based in the first-in-the-nation state.
All indications are that he’s sticking to his professed timetable of announcing his intentions by Labor Day.
“He’s still seriously thinking about it – he would like to see somebody get into the race that can beat Barack Obama, and if somebody [he thinks can do that] gets into the race, he will support that candidate,” said Giuliani’s longtime political adviser Jake Menges. “And if that candidate does not emerge, he will seriously think about getting in.”
A New Hampshire-oriented campaign would pit Giuliani against Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, both of whom are seeking to win over the state’s independent voters and Republicans with a message pegged to their fiscal credentials and job creation efforts. While the former two-term mayor hit a high note in a national CNN poll by leading the pack a few months ago, in New Hampshire, recent polls show he remains well behind Romney.
Giuliani waved off the polling, citing his own rise in 2007 as an example of their hollowness.
“It’s so early, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “You look at prior races and I was going to win in 2007, and Hillary Clinton was going to win in 2007, and Howard Dean had it all locked up” at this time in 2003.
Wayne Semprini, a former New Hampshire Republican chairman who was an early Giuliani backer in his 2008 race – and who’s stayed in his corner for the past three years – said he feels “more confident right now in his chances of winning New Hampshire in mid-July 2011 than I did in mid-July 2007.”
Semprini, who has existed as something of a one-man Granite State band for the former mayor, believes there is a strong case to be made for Giuliani in the 2012 election, a race that all sides agree will play out around the economy.
“It’s a fact, and the reason for that is, we know who we’re up against, we know what the issues are and most Republicans recognize that it’s going to a take tough fiscal conservatives like Rudy Giuliani [to address the nation’s ills],” Semprini said.
To help the former mayor make up his mind, Semprini lined up a string of events for Giuliani on Thursday and Friday – modest appearances that were notably different than the types of fundraisers and major speeches Giuliani made in his last campaign.
There was a luncheon with the Seacoast Republican Women’s group, a meeting with National Rifle Association members, an event with students at a management school and a confab in Hanover, with Dartmouth students.
“We will have covered every coalition he needs to be attractive to,” Semprini said in advance of the two-day jaunt. “He should be able to walk away with enough information to let him come to his own conclusion.”
The small-scale events, Semprini and others noted, were designed to provide the former mayor with more actual voter contact than in 2008, when the whiff of fame surrounded and sometimes overtook his events. Many New Hampshire voters remain scornful of his effort three years ago, where – once it became clear he would lose to John McCain – he essentially pulled up stakes in the final few weeks.
Mike Dennehy, a New Hampshire-based consultant who was a McCain strategist in 2008, said Giuliani would have a hard time gaining traction.
“He would have to totally change perception that he cares about New Hampshire, because after ‘08 no one believes that he does. His national fundraising apparatus from ‘08 is gone and you can’t run a campaign without money, ” he said.
“Most people respect Rudy but his horrific campaign in 08 virtually destroyed any chance of running again,” Dennehy asserted. “That being said, his image in New Hampshire and nationally is very good if he can find a way around my other points.”
There are other considerable obstacles standing in the way of a Giuliani run, among them his private businesses and paid speeches – which may be helped by the presidential buzz but which would become a liability in a campaign. He seems less likely to want to disentangle himself at a moment when, by all accounts, he likes his life. (Giuliani said, however, that he’s long felt a call to public service, and still does).
Giuliani would not be able to raise gobs of cash this time around, Semprini conceded. And the ex-mayor still carries $2.6 million in debt from his 2008 race, including $1.1 million in money that came from his own pocket. But Semprini insisted Giuliani wouldn’t need a lavishly funded campaign given his near-universal name recognition, noting that a prospective campaign would spend smarter than the “pathetic” decisions made last time.
Staffing would present another problem since the bulk of Giuliani’s old organization has broken up and dispersed among other, declared candidates. Still, there are a few stalwarts waiting on him.
“All I’m doing is hoping to God that he says yes, so I have not committed to anybody,” said Patricia Rueppel, a Hooksett Republican who supported him last time. “From what I can see [none of the other candidates] are worth a shakeup in a bag.
She added: “I’m talking to his people … they’re telling me that they don’t know [what he’ll do].”
If Giuliani doesn’t run, there are two people thought to be obvious choices for him to support – Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is widely seen as likely to run, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been adamant that he won’t.
Giuliani said in an interview that Perry, a major Giuliani surrogate in 2008, could be a strong candidate. Christie and Giuliani, both former prosecutors, have a relationship – and enough similarities in their resumes that the ex-mayor could easily get behind him.
Giuliani met privately with both men, almost back to back, last month. Neither side would discuss the Perry sit-down, but Christie shed light on their lunch.
“Rudy and I are friends,” Christie told POLITICO in an interview shortly after the lunch. “And really 90 percent of the conversation that day was about stuff that most people would have found not all that interesting.”
Christie added: “He just asked me again if I was sure that I didn’t want to do this and I said I was. And the business part of the meeting was pretty short.”
“He didn’t ask my opinion nor did he give his [about his own plans]”, the governor recalled.
Fergus Cullen, who was chairman of the state GOP when Giuliani ran in 2008, is among those who are convinced the ex-mayor will not run.
“I think he just likes the attention,” said Cullen, who has written repeated commentaries and made statements openly mocking Giuliani.
Cliff Hurst, a former chair of both the state GOP and the Manchester GOP who is backing Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, is less harsh in his assessment but nevertheless finds it hard to envision the ex-mayor winning the party nomination.
“I think [Giuliani’s] an excellent person and all that but I’m just not sure how clear a path there is at this point,” he said. “He’s got good popularity but I’m not sure where it would go from here.”