article

03.17.11

Rudy Giuliani Plays 2012 Flirt

The former New York City mayor tells Shushannah Walshe he hasn’t decided whether to enter the GOP field—but he’s making a key trip to a presidential bellwether state he paid the price for ignoring in 2008.

Rudy Giuliani is headed up to New Hampshire to deliver the keynote address at the Manchester Republican Committee's Lincoln Reagan Dinner on Friday night. Could the trip to the bellwether state be a signal that the former New York City mayor, who’s been out of office nearly a decade and flamed out early in the 2008 presidential campaign, is about to make another run at the presidency? The answer may actually be yes.

“He’s seriously considering it,” said a Republican source close to Giuliani, who placed fourth in New Hampshire in 2008. Two other former aides who have stayed in touch with the mayor but do not have permission to speak on the record about his thinking said they agreed. And in an interview with The Daily Beast, Giuliani was coy but did not rule it out, saying, “I would say I have not closed the door on doing it.”

The former and perhaps future candidate stressed this trip to the Granite State is not “a presidential consideration fact-finding mission.” Instead, he said, he is “using this trip to pay back some debts that I owe to the people that helped me. Having said that, I may do that later in the year.”

But does he have a chance? The opinions of Republican leaders and political experts in New Hampshire vary widely about a potential Giuliani candidacy, but all agree that he should have spent more time there in 2008. Even Giuliani agrees.

“I would say lessons learned from last time, and I’ve given this advice to some of the potential candidates. You have to think of it as a very major primary,” he said, referring to New Hampshire. “Think of it as a major commitment of time and effort and focus more on that and less on national campaigning.”

Giuliani declined to say which potential 2012 candidates he had advised, though did say he has “met with Mitt a couple of times.”

That New Hampshire is a “very major primary” is clear to political experts, who said Giuliani suffered the consequences of ignoring it in 2008.

“The national recognition that came with his name was the best part of his candidacy—in the end, really the only part of his candidacy,” said Dante Scala, a professor of politics at the University of New Hampshire. “He thought he was unique, that he could defy the laws of gravity when it came to presidential nominating campaigns, and his campaign wound up being one more lesson that even someone with that kind of name-recognition cannot ignore the laws of presidential nominating campaigns.”

“I don’t have a timeline. When somebody tells me this is the last day to decide, that will be the timeline,” Giuliani said.

If Giuliani does enter the 2012 field, he would need to go full force in the first primary state. The executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Neil Levesque, said Giuliani could do well—if he puts the effort in.

“New Hampshire Republicans and independents can vote in the Republican primary, so I think this is the kind of state that would be favorable to him if he were to decide to run,” Levesque said. “Anything can happen in New Hampshire… this is a state where people actually look at someone who is working hard for the vote and they’ll make considerations.”

Levesque said Giuliani should “start firing up the engines.” The former New York City mayor, however, said he is in no hurry to make a decision.

“I don’t have a timeline. When somebody tells me this is the last day to decide, that will be the timeline,” Giuliani said. “If the first primary is in February, I know I have to do it by the end of the year. That I know. Will I decide before that? Maybe, maybe. I don’t know yet, really.”

Scala pointed out that New Hampshire voters may be more open to social moderates like Giuliani than Iowa or South Carolina. “Ideologically, he would have a chance here,” he said.

Wayne Semprini, chairman of Giuliani’s campaign in New Hampshire during the 2008 campaign and a former New Hampshire GOP chairman, said he is “waiting with bated breath” for Giuliani to make his decision.

“If he does decide to come in, he will do things a lot different in New Hampshire this time,” Semprini said. “It’s a very, very fiscally conservative state with a lot of social moderates, and I continue to maintain that more emphasis certainly should have been placed on New Hampshire the last time, and I know that he agrees with me.”

But will Giuliani’s dismal fourth-place finish and his seemingly scant interest in a state where voters like to meet their candidates have lasting effects? For Fergus Cullen, the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party in 2008, the answer is a resounding yes.

“It’s hard to not emphasize enough how bad a campaign Rudy Giuliani waged in New Hampshire four years ago and it’s hard for me to see him recovering from that,” Cullen said. “I must have met Rudy Giuliani five or six times during the time and it was always the first time from Rudy Giuliani’s perspective… what it told me was there was no effort made at all to get to know even the key players in the state.”

Cullen said that at the moment he is undecided—as chairman, he remained neutral last time around—but he will not be endorsing Giuliani.

“On the strengths that he didn’t earn a second chance,” Cullen said, adding that he thought John McCain and Mitt Romney deserve another chance. “I think had he actually come to New Hampshire and said, ‘I’m the electable moderate,’ he would have done better last time… it was such a bad date last time, you don’t get a second chance.”

But conservative leader Ovide Lamontagne, whose Granite Oath PAC is one of the hosts of Friday’s event, said that if Giuliani is the person who looks like he can pull off the victory, he will see “conservatives coalescing around him.” Lamontagne lost to Kelly Ayotte in the 2010 Senate primary and was consistently described as a Tea Party candidate, making him certain to be one of the most sought-after endorsements of the 2012 cycle.

“I hear he’s seriously considering,” Lamontagne said. “I think he’s still relatively unknown here. I think he has an opportunity to meet people for the first time. I don’t think his showing in January of 2008 was a reflection of who he is as a person—more of a reflection that people didn’t know him.”

If Giuliani does decide to run, he will undoubtedly continue his harsh criticism of President Obama. Giuliani told The Daily Beast that Obama’s response to the Libya crisis is “damaging to future efforts to unseat disreputable, dangerous dictators” and said the president does not seem to be able to make important decisions quickly.

“For the first time I can remember, the United States of America is following rather than leading, and it’s worse than just following, we are changing our position, and I think it’s very damaging,” Giuliani said. “I would not have—I don’t think most of our current presidents would have—shot from the hip like that and [said] Gaddafi must go unless we have already made the decision and we were willing to back it up at least with the requests of the Arab League and the government of France. If you are in doubt about the no-fly zone, don’t make as bold of an announcement as that… I’m more concerned about the lack of serious process in making these decisions than the decision itself.”

Giuliani said he is not sure a no-fly zone over Libya would work now but that he probably would have supported it a week or two ago.

He sounds like a national candidate. But Giuliani has a history of flirting with runs and then deciding against it. How will he make the choice to run again?

“It’s usually in your gut,” he said. “Obviously it would be what you thought you could bring to the debate, your value not just as a primary candidate, but should you win as a general election candidate, and also what your chances of winning would be. I haven’t gotten to that stage yet to really formulate those questions.”

A former campaign adviser who remains close to Giuliani was more open about the former mayor’s decision-making process. “I think ultimately the mayor wants to play a role in the national debate,” the adviser said. “If you may have asked six months ago, he wouldn’t be looking as closely as he is… if he was ever to do it again, it’s this time around.”

Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.