Rudolph W. Giuliani was just five minutes into his speech criticizing President Obama’s economic policies and hinting at a possible challenge in 2012 when he was interrupted by the shrill ringing of his cellphone.
It was a sound that once before had tripped up the former New York mayor. During a 2007 speech to the National Rifle Assn., in the middle of his first run for president, he answered a call from his wife, sharpening the perception that he was clueless that his sometimes brusque and self-important manner could rub people the wrong way.
Four years later, with the small waves of the Piscataqua River lapping the shore behind him, Giuliani pulled the phone from his pocket and glanced at the caller ID.
“This is the president calling me, telling me that I’m wrong, but I’m going to wait to call him back a little later,” he said to laughter, punching a button to silence the ringing. “Man, they’re monitoring everything nowadays.”
Giuliani says that he has thought little about whether he will enter the 2012 race and that he will base a decision later this summer on whether he thinks any of the GOP candidates can beat Obama. But he appears to have learned a few key lessons from the missteps of 2008, when he finished fourth in the New Hampshire primary and dropped out within weeks.
As he toured New Hampshire last week, Giuliani seemed eager to make a fresh start, at times sounding almost apologetic about 2008.
New Hampshire has long been a state where diligent retail politicking and a willingness to listen to voters carry the day, but Giuliani once seemed to flout those rules. He sometimes arrived late at his events, took two or three questions and then slipped away in his black town car, even when voters were standing outside in the icy cold waiting to shake his hand.
As if to brush aside those memories in New Castle, he had a one-word answer when asked what he would change in a potential 2012 campaign: “Everything.” He said he would plan more small events like the lawn party at which he had just spoken, at the home of his 2008 New Hampshire chairman, Wayne Semprini, to ensure he could just “talk to people, as opposed to trying to script it too much.” Otherwise, he said, “you end up maybe talking to yourself and four of your advisors and not the people that are there.”
In Hampton, he mocked the pomp of his past events — the decision by his campaign, for example, to introduce him by playing music rather than with the words of a local voter.
“By the time I got out, everybody was all unnerved — like, ‘Why does he think he’s so darn important? … He thinks he’s president already,’” Giuliani told the Hampton gathering. “The time we spent here wasn’t helping us. We probably would have done better if we had spent less time here annoying people.”
“It sounds like you learned your lesson,” a man called out from the audience.
In a brief interview Friday outside MacKenna’s Restaurant in New London, where he greeted breakfast diners on his way to appearances at Dartmouth College, Giuliani blamed his formerly rushed demeanor on pressure from his finance team to spend much of his time raising money.
Asked how he would resolve that tension if he entered the race, Giuliani said: “I’ll just not worry about the money. I’ll just run, and the money will take care of itself.”
Left unspoken was the policy gulf in 2008 between GOP voters and Giuliani, whose moderate views on some social issues limited his reach. If anything, that gulf would appear broader in 2012, given the increasing power of social conservatives in early contests.
For now, Giuliani seems focused on adopting a more approachable style. At the Seacoast Republican Women’s luncheon in Hampton, he stayed long enough to snap pictures with voters in the hallway. “Whatever you want, I will do,” he told two women who approached asking for his autograph.
Later in New Castle, he chatted with voters for more than an hour and half, kissing two nuns on the cheek when they said they’d prayed for him, thanking a man who clutched his hand and called him “a great American hero,” and sampling sangria and Semprini’s homemade gazpacho under a blue-and-white-striped tent.
Later that night at a Harley-Davidson dealership — where free bike washes were being offered by bikini-clad women in the parking lot outside — Giuliani wandered around, asking the manager about the differences between the bikes and sliding onto the seat of a Kelly-green Perewitz custom chopper with an orange- and pink-flame paint job — noting that it matched his tie.
Semprini, who has been urging Giuliani to join the race, said many voters were unhappy with what they viewed as a weak Republican field. At his home in New Castle, he introduced Giuliani as the “likable tough guy” whom voters are looking for to challenge Obama.
And there are clearly some voters who share that view, like Jack Hughes, 73, who volunteered for Giuliani’s effort last time.
Hughes and his wife, Joanne, who attended Giuliani’s New London drop-by Friday, said they were unimpressed by the choices and were waiting for entries by Giuliani, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“It’s like our first team is standing on the sidelines,” Hughes said. Though he spoke glowingly of Giuliani’s efforts to clean up New York — which would be central to his campaign — Hughes said he and his wife were disappointed by Giuliani’s last campaign. Hughes said he recently told Semprini he wanted to see the former mayor “spend the time” that it would take to win in New Hampshire.
Hughes even collared Giuliani to deliver that message on Friday.
“I said to him, ‘Rudy, you went to a high school that’s known for their runners — are you really running this time?’”
“He didn’t give me a firm answer,” Hughes said.