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Giuliani closer to presidential bid

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Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani greets well-wishers before speaking to members of the California State Republican Convention on Saturday.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani greets well-wishers before speaking to members of the California State Republican Convention on Saturday.

David Paul Morris, Getty Images

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Rudolph W. Giuliani made it clear on Saturday that he was running for president and half-joked that he had just announced. But in keeping with his recent comments, he chose his words coyly and seemed amused by the news media's obsession with his every nudge toward a formal statement.

Referring to the presidential race as he concluded a speech to a convention of the California Republican Party, Giuliani said: "You get to decide who that leader will be. I wish you'd decide on me." Then he walked away from the podium as surprised delegates asked themselves whether they had just heard a declaration.

Speaking to reporters a short time later, he said, "Yes, I am committed" to the race. Asked when he would formally announce his candidacy, he said: "I don't know. If you go back to my speech, I think I may have. I'm not sure. I think I did, I'm not sure. I don't know what formally means. We'll figure out how to do it in five places where it gets more attention."

Republican activists have complained in recent months that Giuliani is not following the script for a presidential campaign, and say he was late in assembling a campaign team and starting serious fund-raising. Most recently, they have said he risks alienating supporters if he does not announce his candidacy, as so many others have done.

Giuliani seems amused by such concerns, and his advisers say his celebrity allows him to go at his own pace, with confidence that the support and the money he needs will follow.

Giuliani got a more enthusiastic reception here than he has from Republican Party gatherings in most parts of the country. The lunch audience of 800 people — more than the banquet hall at the Grand Hyatt could accommodate, and several hundred more than turned out the night before for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — repeatedly interrupted him with standing ovations.

"It's an overwhelming response," said Allan Hoffenblum, a onetime Republican consultant who publishes the California Target Book, a political newsletter. "He is clearly the biggest star for these people. But don't be fooled, most of them are holding their fire." They are probably leaning toward Sen. John McCain or Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, Hoffenblum said.

That was borne out by interviews with dozens of delegates who said they were to Giuliani's right, especially on social issues. They spoke glowingly — even emotionally — about him, but most said they were not sure they could support him.

"There's no shortage of feeling for him, and he gets really high marks on competence and leadership," said Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., who has not taken sides in the race. "But so have the other two."

State Assemblyman Ted Gaines endorsed Giuliani on Friday, although, he said, "I'm more conservative than he is." Gaines said he was swayed by the thought of who would lead the country through another terrorist attack.

Giuliani gave one of his most partisan speeches since the November election. He compared himself repeatedly to Ronald Reagan, as unassailable a figure as there is in this crowd, and effusively praised President Bush.

Giuliani also took a rare series of shots at Congress, describing it as a group of people who could not take sides on difficult issues.

"Presidents have to take decisions and move the country forward, and that's the kind of president I would like to be: a president who makes decisions," he said.