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Rudy’s star on the rise, Christie’s has dimmed

November 5, 1997

What a difference a day makes.

Christie Whitman was seen as one of the GOP’s brightest stars, until an Election Day scare nearly left the New Jersey governor jobless. Now the party’s political spotlight is shining across the river, where New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was re-elected in a runaway.

The former federal prosecutor was still savoring his 16-point victory over Democrat Ruth Messinger when he received an invitation Wednesday morning to go to Iowa to explore ``his political options.″

State Republican chairman Steve Grubbs said the mayor had demonstrated his appeal by garnering 57 percent of the vote in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5-to-1, and quadrupling his support among blacks from four years ago, when he was elected with just 5 percent of their vote.

Grubbs said such broad support would make Giuliani an attractive candidate in Iowa caucuses, which kick off the presidential nominating season.

``I wouldn’t want him to rule out his options in the future,″ Grubbs said.

Giuliani was coy when asked about his future on NBC’s ``Today″ show Wednesday. ``I don’t cut off options,″ he said.

In the nation’s only Congressional race Tuesday, a GOP newcomer rode Giuliani’s coattails to win the seat representing New York’s Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. Vito Fossella was sworn in Wednesday morning, just in time to cast a crucial vote on trade later this week.

Other incumbent mayors from both parties also were re-elected around the country, including in Cleveland, Detroit and Minneapolis. Several other cities, such as Atlanta, Houston and Miami, are holding runoffs later this year after no candidate received a majority.

In two closely watched ballot issues, voters in Oregon refused to scrap the nation’s only assisted suicide law, while Houston voters stuck with an affirmative action plan that benefits women and minorities in city contracting and hiring.

In Virginia, which held the only other gubernatorial contest, Republican Jim Gilmore, a former attorney general, coasted to victory over Democratic Lt. Gov. Don Beyer. Republican incumbent George Allen was barred from seeking a second term.

New York’s law limits Giuliani to a second term, and aides say they won’t be surprised if he picks up his travel schedule in the coming months to promote his successes in the city: a sharp drop in crime, improved business climate and the belief that the quality of life is on the rise.

``There is now a spotlight on Giuliani, because he either met or exceeded the high expectations of him,″ said mayoral adviser Raymond Harding.

Months ago, such talk centered around Whitman, who was expected to breeze to a second term. After upsetting the Democratic incumbent in 1993 on a promise to cut taxes _ which she kept _ New Jersey’s first female governor was widely touted as vice presidential material.

But the day after Democratic state Sen. Jim McGreevey came within one percentage point of another upset _ Whitman won 47 percent to 46 percent _ the governor’s future beyond the Garden State was much cloudier.

Pressed by reporters on the topic, Whitman testily insisted Wednesday she never harbored notions about a place on the GOP’s national ticket last year _ despite her high-profile status as co-host of the party’s national convention.

Whitman said she was proud of winning in a state where only 20 percent of voters are registered as Republicans and more than half list no party affiliation.

``To win in this election is extraordinary, considering we started with less than 20 percent of the base,″ Whitman said.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Washington-based Rothenberg Political Report, said the close race effectively wiped out Whitman’s national chances, although she remains a potent symbol to GOP leaders looking to appeal to moderates.

``She is a very polarizing force within the party,″ Rothenberg said, ``but she is still a glamorous politician.″

Giuliani’s supporters say he’s more likely to shoot for the Senate _ possibly in 2000 for the seat now held by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan _ than look for a spot on the national ticket.

But some GOP insiders say going from New York City mayor to the White House may not be so far-fetched.

Richard Schwarm, a former Iowa Republican chairman, said Giuliani’s success in turning around New York ``gives him a credibility so that he can’t be dismissed as too far out of the mainstream to be considered for president.″

Others, however, say Giuliani would have the same problems as Whitman on a national stage. They see his brand of moderate Republicanism _ including support for gay rights, gun control and abortion rights _ as a tough sell outside the Big Apple.

``I have a great deal of respect for Giuliani and I think he’s right for New York,″ said Steve Roberts, a Des Moines lawyer and member of the Republican National Committee.

``I think those who suggest he might have some possibility out here are involved in some speculation that doesn’t have much foundation in reality.″

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