Rudy, a Message to You

New York GOP Searches for High-Profile Challenger to Sen. Schumer

Posted January 8, 2003 at 6:45pm

With most of the New York political world focused on two 2006 races — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D) re-election and a gubernatorial contest — there has been little attention paid to a statewide campaign that will happen two years earlier.

In 2004, Sen. Charles Schumer (D) will run for his second term. He is popular in the state and media-savvy, and he had more than $11 million in the bank as of June 30. All those factors could result in a Republican field that will be slow to develop and largely bereft of marquee names.

A Schumer operative in New York said he had not yet heard any formidable Republicans surface for the race.

“Whoever it is will be somebody who works half as hard as Senator Schumer,” he said.

The only potential GOP candidate so far to speak openly about his interest in the race is Long Island Rep. Peter King (R). The 58-year-old moderate has run statewide before, losing the race for attorney general in 1986, and has flirted with other high-profile bids, most recently the 2000 Senate campaign that then-Rep. Rick Lazio (R) lost to Clinton.

In an interview, King said he was “talking to different political leaders and union leaders trying to size up” his chances for a successful campaign. He said he would make a firm decision by this summer, as GOP hopefuls will need at least a year to try to put together the $30 million or more that will be necessary to mounting a competitive run.

“I think that if I can show the race is real and I have a chance to win then the national money will come in,” he said.

King said that he would wait before sounding out the White House’s political operatives on their view of his candidacy. He added that Republicans’ decision to hold their 2004 national convention in New York would helpfully focus attention on the Senate race, while also boosting President Bush’s standing in the state and emphasizing that “Bush needs an ally in the Senate” from New York.

Aside from King, it doesn’t appear that there will be any other takers from the Empire State’s GOP House delegation. Rep. John Sweeney (R) is widely known to have statewide aspirations, but he appears more likely to keep his powder dry for a future gubernatorial bid.

Rep. Jack Quinn (R), a moderate who has consistently won in a heavily Democratic Buffalo-area district, is also on some wish lists. But in an interview last month, Quinn took himself out of the running and all but endorsed the incumbent.

“I am not running against Chuck Schumer,” said Quinn. “Chuck’s the hardest-working Senator I’ve seen. He’s everywhere, and in my opinion he’s done a very good job for Buffalo and western New York.”

Schumer’s assiduous work back home was a common theme for political operatives discussing the race. Another Republican described Schumer as “acting as if he was still a state Assemblyman.”

The political elephant in the state is former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), who is considered so popular that he could essentially win any post he wanted merely by announcing his candidacy. A poll taken in December by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion showed Giuliani leading Schumer 58 percent to 37 percent in a hypothetical 2004 matchup.

“Rudy’d take everybody else off the table if he’d do it,” said a New York GOP operative. “The question is whether he wants to stop making money by 2004.”

Beyond whatever desire he might have to remain a private-sector rainmaker, several Empire State Republicans said they believed Giuliani was better suited and more desirous of an executive position rather than a legislative one. He may have his eye on a White House bid, and a stint as New York’s governor would be a natural way station toward that end.

Gov. George Pataki (R) will be up for re-election in 2006, and it is unclear whether he will run for a fourth term. If he doesn’t, Giuliani is considered the most formidable potential GOP candidate by a wide margin, while Democrats could be represented by state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer or even Schumer himself.

In addition to that contest, Republicans have already set their sights on trying to unseat Clinton and capturing the attorney general post in 2006. That trifecta of marquee races has kept Schumer’s 2004 re-election contest largely below the fold, and observers said it would likely stay quiet for several more months.

An Albany Republican said that “people are really starting to get tired of year-round politics” and that the Senate race probably wouldn’t begin to take shape until this summer at the earliest.

Barring the entrance of Giuliani or a similar giant — one Republican strategist wistfully suggested Secretary of State and New York native Colin Powell for the job — attention will stay on a group of ambitious but less-proven GOP figures.

One such Republican is Erie County Executive Joel Giambra, a former Democrat who is thought to have a bright future.

Giambra, who turned 46 on Wednesday, has worked his way up through the Buffalo and Erie County political ranks. He spent most of his career as a Democrat, including doing field work in 1980 for the Carter-Mondale campaign, then switched to the GOP in 1998 and was elected county executive the following year.

Giambra is already well-known in statewide political circles, and Pataki reportedly considered dropping Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue as his running mate last year and replacing her on the ticket with the Erie County Republican.

Giambra’s ability to draw votes upstate and his moderate profile could make him an attractive candidate, though there is nothing in his background to suggest that he could raise the eight-figure sums he would need to mount an effective Senate campaign.

Randy Daniels, the current New York secretary of state (an appointed position once held by Mario Cuomo), is also seen as a possibility. A black former journalist and investment adviser, Daniels is also a former Democrat who worked for the 1986 Senate campaign of Mark Green and for former New York City Council President Andrew Stein.

Another potential candidate is Ted Forstmann, who runs the Manhattan-based investment firm Forstmann Little & Co., is co-founder of the Children’s Scholarship Fund and is active in the school voucher movement.

Forstmann has contributed several hundred thousand dollars to Republican political causes and has long been discussed as a potential candidate, partly because his wealth would allow him to fund his own campaign. He briefly considered running for the Senate in 2000 against Clinton.

Former state Assembly Minority Leader John Faso (R) was considered a possible Senate candidate, but he has already said he does not plan to run. The Marist poll showed Schumer leading Faso by 40 points.