ALBANY, N.Y. – In a political universe unaccustomed to single-name celebrities there are “Hillary” and “Rudy.”
Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the only former first lady ever elected to public office. Republican Rudolph Giuliani is the man dubbed “America’s Mayor” for his leadership after terrorists struck his city, New York, on Sept. 11, 2001.
The two lead party rivals in polling for the far-off White House race in 2008, a potential blockbuster matchup that promises all the political buzz and tabloid hype that only Hillary versus Rudy could deliver. Neither has committed publicly to running.
“They transcend the swamp of New York politics,” said Republican strategist Nelson Warfield. “Because of their celebrity, Clinton and Giuliani are able to rise above the mire that soils so many other New York politicians.”
Clinton says her sole focus is winning a second Senate term in 2006. Still, the silence about 2008 has failed to quiet the speculation.
Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo – himself mentioned as a presidential contender in 1988 and 1992 – says neither Clinton, who grew up in suburban Chicago, nor Giuliani, a Brooklyn native, is a typical New York politician.
“If you were Merlin and you had taken a young boy with a fragile build and dipped him into the cauldron of boiling juices from lizards’ insides and produced a knight with the biggest, broadest sword ever seen, you wouldn’t have a better miracle than Giuliani produced by 9-11,” Cuomo said.
“I wish I could say he was the product of a developed politics here that is so strong, but he wasn’t,” Cuomo said. “And, neither was Hillary. Hillary was an import from Washington who chose, to our benefit, to come to New York. Yeah, they are New Yorkers now and very much so, but not a product of New York politics.”
New York has not had one of its own elected president since Franklin D. Roosevelt won a fourth term in 1944. Since then, several New Yorkers – almost all of them Republicans – have come close to the Oval Office or earned a spot on a national ticket.
Gov. Thomas Dewey, who lost to Roosevelt in 1944, finished a close second to President Truman in 1948. William E. Miller, a New York congressman, was Barry Goldwater’s running mate in 1964. Former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was appointed vice president during Gerald Ford’s administration in the 1970s. Jack Kemp, a congressman and then housing secretary for the first President Bush, was on the unsuccessful 1996 GOP ticket as Bob Dole’s running mate.
The lone New York Democrat on a national ticket was Geraldine Ferraro, a congresswoman who was Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984.
“You don’t find much presidential timber in New York because the soil is polluted with machine politics,” said Warfield, a top aide on the Dole campaign. “Unlimited incumbency and almost unlimited patronage breed grubby politicians. But Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani cut in line to win here without paying dues to the spoils system.”
Giuliani has spent more time in elected office. He was the No. 3 official in the Justice Department under President Reagan and was the U.S. attorney in New York City.
He ran for mayor in 1989 and lost. He won in 1993 and served through 2001, forced out by term limits. So popular was the tough-on-crime mayor that there were rumblings of rescinding the city’s term limits to let him serve on.
In 2000, Giuliani was seen as a formidable opponent to Clinton’s history-making run for the Senate, but he dropped out after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
In her only run for public office, Clinton flattened the GOP’s stand-in standard-bearer, then-Rep. Rick Lazio. She captured 55 percent of the vote in a state populated by five Democrats for every three Republicans.
Clinton, wife of former President Clinton, is no stranger to high-stakes politics. She played an important role in her husband’s campaigns and administration, including her handling of his failed health care reform effort.
Clinton and Giuliani are not the only New Yorkers who might make a White House bid in 2008. New York’s Republican governor, George Pataki, is also considering a presidential run after ruling out a bid for a fourth term next year. Pataki, however, is barely a blip in national polls.
Cuomo said that with Clinton headed for what he thinks will be a big re-election victory next year, the focus of the nation could again be on his home state. “The country is going to be in a New York state of mind from 2006 to 2008,” he said.