Former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger said yesterday that he is considering a request from New York Republican leaders that he run against Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D) in the November election.
Confirming a report first published in the Bergen (N.J.) Record that he had met with state GOP leaders and a group of political consultants last Friday to canvass his prospects in the race, Kissinger said, "I had not previously considered standing for elective office, but I am complimented by their request and I feel I owe them a consideration of their views."
Several people involved in the discussions over the past two weeks said they thought there was less than a 25 percent chance that Kissinger would run. James M. Cannon, a Kissinger intimate since the days when they were both associated with the late Nelson A. Rockefeller, said Kissinger made it plain at the meeting in his office and since then that "he takes this very seriously, but he has not decided."
Charles Black, a political consultant whose judgment is regarded as critical by several of the participants in the discussions, said, "Kissinger would be the best candidate for the party and the fund-raising would work, but I just don't know why he'd want to be governor. He'd have to answer that."
Several others who have known Kissinger over the years pointed to the noncommittal tone of his statement and said they had trouble imagining him plunging into the type of street-corner campaigning that was the hallmark of Rockefeller's campaigns for New York governor.
Still, the New York-Washington political network was titillated by the possibility of what was already being touted as a "Star Wars" campaign. Republicans have been seeking a credible challenger to Cuomo, who had a 68.4 percent good or excellent job-performance rating in the latest Marist Institute poll. Until now, the leading prospect appeared to be state Sen. Roy Goodman, a millionaire liberal Republican from Manhattan.
Cuomo is widely viewed as a possible contender for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination and some of his aides were almost salivating at the prospect of a 1986 campaign against Kissinger, which would obviously draw massive media attention. White House officials said that they had played no role in attempting to recruit Kissinger as a candidate. One senior White House aide said he was skeptical that "there's anything to it."
But there seemed no question of the interest in his candidacy from senior New York Republicans, including the three who met with Kissinger during a series of sessions ending Friday: party chairman Anthony Colavita, state Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson and state Assembly Minority Leader Clarence Rappleyea.
"It would be a great race," Colavita said yesterday. "The whole world would focus in on it."
Others at the session were media adviser Roger Ailes, George Humphreys, a former Rockefeller aide, and Cannon, who has worked for former Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) since leaving the Rockefeller staff.
A poll taken for Kissinger's consideration by Market Opinion Research of Detroit showed the race would be "very difficult but not impossible," Cannon said. Another source said it showed Kissinger would lose badly if the election were held today.
Kissinger served as an adviser to Rockefeller throughout his 14-year tenure as governor of New York, but is best known as a foreign policy expert. Cannon said the Friday meeting discussed the problem that "people might not understand that his expertise in foreign affairs relates to New York problems," but said he thought voters would come to accept that "leadership is important, wherever it can be found."
During his tenure as secretary of state under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, Kissinger was criticized by conservatives including Ronald Reagan for his policy of Soviet-American detente and his opening of relations with China. But conservatives such as 1982 New York gubernatorial nominee Lewis Lehrman said yesterday that Kissinger would make "an excellent candidate." Cannon said party leaders told Kissinger Friday they expected no significant primary opposition if he ran for the Republican nomination for governor.
David Mahoney, the Conservative Party chairman, said he was unaware of the meeting but expressed "great interest" in Kissinger's possible candidacy. As for an endorsement, Mahoney said, "You'd have to hear what he would say. His background has been exclusively in foreign policy and those issues are so ungermane to New York . . . . "
Lehrman's former press secretary, David Carmen, now a political consultant, said he thought Kissinger is still "widely hated" by conservatives, adding, "He's a foreign policy specialist. I can't imagine him talking about the subways of Manhattan or tax cuts for jobs."