Clinton, Giuliani put 2008 presidential race in a New York state of mind

Sunday, November 20, 2005

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.

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 says neither Clinton, who grew up in suburban Chicago, nor Giuliani, a Brooklyn native, is a typical New York politician.

"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."

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.

Both Giuliani and Clinton will have to work to shed the state's image as a liberal bastion -- Giuliani in the GOP primaries where the party's conservative base rules and Clinton nationally.

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.

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