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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Giuliani's Christmas present to state GOP

Rudy Giuliani signs a hat during a presidential

Rudy Giuliani signs a hat during a presidential campaign stop in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., on Thursday Jan. 17, 2008. Credit: AP File

Speaking with Republican players, you could sense relief. Rudy Giuliani had finally stated what many in the political world expected. He stood next to Rick Lazio, candidate for governor, and pulled the plug on his own statewide prospects.

This was his Christmas present to his party, which is currently shut out of statewide elected offices. He ended the agonizing, guessing, dubious leaks and tiptoeing.

Lazio adviser Ryan Moses said this would clear the way for fundraising to begin in earnest. Other Republicans, too, could jump into the fray for governor or senator with less complication. People could get on with their plans.

Nor did it look like the Conservatives, who factor into state contests, would face a problem endorsing one of the remaining candidates, given the party's past with the ex-mayor.

"The bad news is: He'd have been a formidable candidate for either senator or the governorship," said Ed Cox, the state GOP chair, by phone. "The good news," he quickly added, "is that in addition to fulfilling his business obligations and doing something he enjoys in his private life, he's going to remain out there [for the party]. He made that clear."

Everyone now can forget as well the drama in which Giuliani's small circle opposed the selection of Cox as state chair - with all the guessing and dubious leaks that entailed.

During the endorsement in midtown Manhattan, Giuliani advisers Jake Menges and Denny Young stood shoulder to shoulder. A couple of feet away, the Lazio team stood watching history and hatchets being buried.

That history was eight years old. In 2000, Giuliani spent weeks mulling whether, despite his prostate cancer, he'd stay in the U.S. Senate race. Lazio, then lacking the streaks of silver that now run through his hair, waited and waited that year. Eventually he became the nominee and lost to Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. Months ago, Lazio reportedly vowed that he wasn't going to defer to Giuliani's decision this time.

When asked about other possible Senate candidates, Giuliani mentioned ex-Gov. George Pataki and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). Despite the high praise, King has said he will not run for the seat, and the likelihood of Pataki jumping in looks doubtful. King did add Tuesday that while he doesn't see any reason to change his mind, he has agreed to reconsider and will "decide soon after the first of the year."

On the Democratic side, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand seems to be the most immediate winner - at least in the view of a key ally who said months ago that Giuliani posed the biggest threat to her election.

With a boost for Lazio, the burden in the governor's race shifts to the Democrats. A primary contest seems fated between Gov. David A. Paterson and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Lazio, as the moment's likeliest GOP nominee, certainly looks to capitalize.

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