After months of playing it coy and flirting with a bid for statewide office, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Tuesday that he won't return to the campaign trail next year, leaving a wide-open field for New York Republicans interested in the gubernatorial and Senate races.
Giuliani, viewed by many New York Republicans as a savior for the struggling party, said his "significant commitments" to his lucrative law and consulting businesses made it impossible for him to run for office in 2010.
At a news conference to endorse ex-congressman Rick Lazio for governor, Giuliani said he had considered running against incumbent Democrat Gov. David Paterson and in the U.S. Senate race next year against freshman Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.
Unwilling to bow to speculation that this might be the end of his political career, the 65-year-old said he wouldn't rule out running for office in the future. "It's a decision purely about 2010," he said. "I have no idea whether I'll run for something else."
For months, the former mayor has been feeding speculation about a run. He made appearances on Sunday TV news shows, got national attention by opposing a terrorist trial in New York City, and wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times calling for an overhaul of state government.
His announcement clears the way for lower-profile Republicans to publicly announce whether they'll join nationally prominent contests that now appear bereft of household names.
"This does open the door to other candidates to come forward," state Republican Chairman Ed Cox said in an interview. "We have one announced candidate for governor, and I think there will be more coming out."
Erie County Executive Chris Collins is among the Republicans who have openly said they were holding off committing to a campaign until they saw what Giuliani decided.
Giuliani, whose most recent foray into politics ended with a stinging loss to John McCain in the race for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, said there are strong GOP candidates for both Senate and governor.
After endorsing Lazio and praising ex-Gov. George Pataki and U.S. Rep. Pete King as possible GOP candidates for Senate, Giuliani said: "I don't feel that I've left the party in the lurch." He also promised to help campaign for Republican candidates next year.
It was a familiar moment for Giuliani, who endorsed Lazio after stepping down from his own 2000 bid for the same Senate seat now up for grabs. Lazio, then a congressman, was trounced by Hillary Rodham Clinton after Giuliani withdrew following a diagnosis of prostate cancer and the public breakup of his marriage.
But in this campaign season, the state GOP is hoping to ride a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment, low popularity for Paterson and falling approval of President Barack Obama. It's been a fast turnaround from November 2008, when Republicans in New York lost their last power base, the state Senate, and Democratic voter enrollment was nearly twice that of the GOP.
Paterson appointed Gillibrand this year to take over for Clinton after she became secretary of state. The 2010 election will decide who would serve out the balance of the term, through 2012.
Giuliani said he decided not to run after his consulting firm landed a contract with Rio de Janeiro to help make the city safer before the 2016 Olympics there.
Time is already growing short for GOP candidates, said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll.
"This is the time to make your intentions known, regardless of the nuance of what Rudy may or may not say about it," Miringoff said.
Republicans in a state dominated by Democratic voters need to establish name recognition and raise millions of dollars during what could potentially be a big year for the GOP, Miringoff said.
On Tuesday, Lazio echoed that sense of urgency. "It's a huge state and we have to get started right now," he said.
Gormley reported from Albany, N.Y.