Anyone's list of Republicans running for governor of New York in 2010 invariably starts, and stops, with Rudy Giuliani. The word on the former NYC mayor and failed presidential candidate is that he's always wanted that job. Even when he was running for the Senate, back in 2000 (setting up a prospective clash of giants with Hillary Rodham Clinton) — a race that ended early because of his diagnosis of prostate cancer — the feeling was he not doing what he wanted to do. And that is, running for governor.
Back then, the governorship was blocked by George Pataki, conqueror of Mario Cuomo in 1994, who stayed in office 12 years. Pataki was no fan of Giuliani's, especially after Rudy snubbed him for Cuomo in the '94 race.
Currently, New York is headed up by the weakest chief executive since Malcolm Wilson (R) served some 35 years ago. Wilson, like David Paterson (D) today, became governor only after the incumbent decided to quit. And while, on paper, Giuliani challenging Paterson makes complete sense for the Republican, the feeling here is that Paterson is not going to be the Democratic nominee next year; either he retires rather than stand up to the expected challenge by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (which is what I'm guessing will happen), or he runs anyway and loses to Cuomo in the primary. And I don't think Giuliani can beat Cuomo in the general election.
That apparently is the feeling among the Giuliani people as well. The New York Times' Danny Hakim reports that the ex-mayor "has decided not to run for governor of New York next year after months of mulling a candidacy, according to people who have been told of the decision":
His decision is a blow to many Republican leaders, who had viewed Mr. Giuliani as the strongest potential candidate in a year in which voter anger and anti-Albany sentiment appeared to be swelling.
The New York Daily News takes the story a step further; they are flatly reporting today that, according to sources, Giuliani "will run for U.S. Senate instead," taking on appointed incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand. Gillibrand has managed to scare off serious primary opposition, despite her somewhat conservative voting record back when she was representing an upstate congressional district. (In January of this year she was appointed to the Senate by Gov. Paterson to replace now-Secretary of State Clinton.) But she has the strong support of the party elders — read senior Sen. Chuck Schumer — and will be well funded.
When you think back to all those big-name Democrats who were threatening to take her on in the primary, one might wonder about the degree of enthusiasm there is in her party behind her candidacy. Well, here's a name that will get them enthused: Rudy Giuliani. Despite his national acclaim in the wake of his leading the city following 9/11, many Democrats foam at the mouth at the mere thought of Giuliani. Conservatives may wince at Rudy's positions on abortion and gay marriage — not to mention his own personal family-values history — but Democrats are sour on him for an assortment of reasons, mostly on personality and the way he ran roughshod over them during his eight years as mayor. (And there's no telling how his longtime relationship with former NYC Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who this month pleaded guilty to corruption charges, will play out.)
Lee Miringhoff, director of the Marist Poll, notes that while Giuliani trails Cuomo in a potential gubernatorial matchup, he leads Gillibrand by 54-40 percent:
A Senate win for Giuliani in this heavily Democratic state would be a huge national story. It would also be an equally huge embarrassment for the Obama White House. It could even rekindle any hopes Giuliani has about another presidential run.
Rudy Giuliani is a marquee name in GOP circles in New York. But, if he harbors any presidential aspirations, he needs to win something. His last electoral success was his re-election as NYC mayor in 1997... a lifetime ago in politics. His on-again, off-again campaign in 2000 and his truncated run for the White House in 2008 raise serious doubts about his electoral viability.
Yet, this may turn out to be a stroke of political acumen for team Rudy. A decision by Giuliani to run for the U.S. Senate may ultimately shake things up nationally as much as his decision to pull out of the race for governor has altered the political landscape in Albany.
There's no guarantee that Giuliani would have smooth sailing to the GOP Senate nomination. Pataki's name has been proposed, and while he left the governorship (voluntarily) after 2006 with poor approval ratings, he might want to stick it to the guy who stiffed him in '94.
For the record, the last time a New York Democratic senator, appointed or otherwise, was defeated in the next election? Never.