11/23: Rudy Giuliani…What If?

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

What if Rudy Giuliani decides to challenge Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand for U.S. Senate?  According to the Marist Poll, Giuliani would start the race as the morning line favorite against New York’s junior senator.  Giuliani leads Gillibrand by 14 percentage points.  But, let’s drill down in the numbers to find out why.

Lee Miringoff

Lee Miringoff

Rudy Giuliani gets a nod from a notable 48% of his former New York City constituents compared with 45% who support Gillibrand.  No laughing matter for any Democrat running statewide, and especially for the former upstate Congresswoman.  Gillibrand has had difficulty connecting with traditionally Democratic downstate voters with her prior pro-gun positions, vote in support of the Iraq War, and her stand on amnesty for illegal immigrants.   Not surprisingly, upstate, she fares decently for a Democrat, attracting 42% of the vote.  But, in the pivotal suburbs surrounding New York City, Giuliani clobbers Gillibrand by nearly 2 to 1.  Can Giuliani overcome the huge registration advantage for Democrats in New York State?  He currently receives support from 33% of these voters.

Now, what is unusual about a potential Giuliani-Gillibrand matchup is that the incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand, unlike the challenger, is still largely unknown to many New Yorkers.  24% of voters statewide don’t know enough about her to voice an opinion.  With so many New York voters still on the fence, her approval rating statewide is a measly 25%…. certainly a target for team Giuliani.

There is a gender gap in the numbers as well.  Gillibrand trails Giuliani by 24 percentage points among men but breaks almost even among women.  Giuliani will need to tread lightly on this one lest he create a Lazio-Clinton backlash… which occurred in the 2000 U.S. Senate campaign when Lazio bullied Clinton during a debate.

Several additional factors would make this a race to watch.  2010 is not shaping up at present as a banner year for Democrats nationally.  Will New York Democrats be immune from this trend?

What about Giuliani’s public image?  He is well known to voters as a can-do executive type.  Will he be able, during a campaign, to convince enough New Yorkers that he can be effective in a consensus building, collegial, legislative arena?

And, what impact will the trial of the five accused 9-11 plotters in the shadow of Ground Zero have on the issue agenda for this campaign?  Will candidate Giuliani be able to rekindle voters’ memories of him as “America’s Mayor” in a world that still has its extremist unrest?

Rudy Giuliani hasn’t won in the voting booth since 1997….a long-time in political years.   If he still harbors presidential aspirations, a victory in New York over Kirsten Gillibrand, capturing the Senate seat only recently held by Hillary Clinton, would catapult him into the national spotlight.