At turns charming about his New York mayoral stint then chippy toward President Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani delivered a red-meat speech on leadership to a receptive Utah audience Wednesday before a direct question made him pause.
"Could there be a Romney-Giuliani ticket in 2012?" Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, asked the failed 2008 presidential candidate.
Giuliani waited for the anxious laughter to fade, then framed a toothy grin.
"There could be anything in 2012, who knows?" he told a crowd of nearly 1,000 at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. "Things change in American politics almost instantly."
He should know. The one-time 2008 Republican front-runner became a campaigning cautionary tale after staking all his hopes on winning Florida, before finishing third. Giuliani said he never thought "in a million years" Obama would eclipse Hillary Clinton to top the Democratic ticket.
But if Utahns assembled for the Utah League of Cities & Towns "local officials day" at the Legislature are any measure, perhaps "America's mayor" (after his post-9/11 leadership) has a political future.
"He's a genius. He's a guy you would follow to the ends of the earth because you trust him," Douglas Wixom, a Ph.D. who runs after-school programs for South Salt Lake, said after the speech. Wixom said he is partial to Mitt Romney, but would not object to a President Giuliani. "They'd make a great ticket. Obama's a con man."
Winking, Sen. President Michael Waddoups also offered an endorsement of sorts. "He's obviously a leader. We could certainly do worse than a president like him someday."
Invoking Ronald Reagan, and arguing government cannot be efficient without making people accountable, Giuliani recounted successes in cleaning up New York, while transitioning the city's 1 million welfare recipients to "workfare." Leaders, he said, must have a set of beliefs, courage and communication skills.
He spent a brief time rehashing 9-11, but noted he tried to attend the funerals for every city police officer and firefighter. Callers on his morning radio show, he remembered, often would "bring me down to earth" with complaints about felled trees. And he drew laughs when deadpanning that former New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre won four championships "with my help -- and he never mentions me."
But the former prosecutor from the Reagan Justice Department had stern and sober words for Obama regarding the war on terrorism.
"I try not to be partisan; I'm just saying this as an American," he offered. "The president has done some things that have hurt our intelligence gathering. The president has finally acknowledged we're at war."
Later, Giuliani said the nation must stay one step ahead of terrorists by taking the war to them. "When we capture one of them, we should interrogate them forever," he said. "Not just for 10 hours, 12 hours. Most of them are professional liars."
Giuliani said he is not talking about torture.
"To try to treat this thing as a criminal-justice matter makes no sense," he added. "The president's got to get around to that way of thinking."
The line drew whoops and applause.
While a smattering of Utah lawmakers camped at tables upfront, the sprawling ballroom was mostly filled with young people bused to the event.
"I actually love this guy," Brighton High's Christina Bracken said. "He's really informative."
Classmate Jeremy Ashby said Giuliani's address taught him a key principle of leadership: "It's better to have ideas than to ask for ideas," he said. "Don't follow."