President Pataki – An Update

IMG_1944George Pataki.  Eye roll.

George Pataki in New Hampshire.  Eyyye rolll.

George Pataki running for president.  Of the United States.  Eyyyyye rolllll.

You’re not the only one – it’s a common New York reaction as former governor George Pataki moves toward formally announcing his presidential candidacy tomorrow.

Slim chances notwithstanding, he’s been running hard for several months (via a Super PAC) and has done well for himself.  “Done well for himself” doesn’t mean that he’s remotely a leading or even close to leading candidate.  It does mean that he’s succeeded in gaining exposure with local appearances and media, and also with numerous national cable network appearances.  More people have seen or heard Pataki in the past five months than had in the prior eight years, since he left office.  (I’ve covered three of his New Hampshire trips, in January, February and April, and some of my early analyses of his candidacy and reports on his early New Hampshire visits are here and here.)

George Pataki onstage at the New Hampshire Republican Party Leadership Summit.  4/17/15
George Pataki onstage at the New Hampshire Republican Party Leadership Summit. 4/17/15

Pataki remains a back-of-the-pack candidate, but he’s had a productive five months.  He’s been actively campaigning, with seven visits to New Hampshire, as well as appearances in Iowa and South Carolina, this year.  Among the early primary states he’s smartly focused on New Hampshire, already visiting all 10 counties.  The emphasis on in-person campaigning is beneficial to Pataki, who appears to have more time than money.  Owning a farm in New York’s Adirondacks, he has more of a shared experience with New Hampshirites than Iowans or South Carolinians.  In my observation on the New Hampshire campaign trail, he connects reasonably well with New Hampshire voters.  He’s likely less in sync with the substantial numbers of evangelical voters in Iowa and South Carolina.

George Pataki at a pizzeria in Newport, NH.  2/3/15
George Pataki at a pizzeria in Newport, NH. 2/3/15

In New Hampshire Pataki is treated like one of the many back-of-the-pack candidates, rather than the punchline New Yorkers regard him as.  Pataki blends in among the governors and former governors in the GOP field of 20 or so actual and would-be candidates.  He’s gotten a few early supporters in New Hampshire, including two of the fourteen Republican state senators.  He’s also setup a New Hampshire “steering committee” with several active Republican Party members and his Super Pac briefly ran a TV ad in New Hampshire.

George Pataki speaks at a dinner hosted by the Chesire County Republican Committee in Keene, NH.  2/3/15
George Pataki speaks at a dinner hosted by the Chesire County Republican Committee in Keene, NH. 2/3/15

For Pataki, the large field and lack of a frontrunner is mostly a plus.  Jeb Bush’s early stumbles and Chris Christie’s fading luster are positive developments, as any Pataki presidential pipe dream requires a winnowing of the “establishment” candidates.  The plausible Pataki path (stay with me) involves Bush and Christie falling and the Republican establishment desperately searching for an alternative to a Tea Party driven candidacy of Cruz or, maybe, Rubio.  Likely?  No, but the earliest pieces of Bush and Christie having a rough time are positives.

As when he was governor, Pataki casts himself as both conservative and moderate, depending on the circumstances.  He’s mostly run right so far in 2015, in line with the near-universal view in the Republican Party, but any appeal realistically depends on portraying himself as experienced and responsible.  He’ll never outcrazy the Cruz’s, Jindals and Pauls of the field, and chasing too far after them offers little to plausibly attract that Republican “establishment” should it start to look for alternatives.

He has a more immediate deadline, however.  Fox News recently announced that it will limit it’s August 6th Republican candidate debate to the top ten candidates as determined in a composite of national polls.  Pataki is plausibly in the top ten in New Hampshire, but is certainly not in that group nationally.  Making that cut will, as for all of the candidates, be a significant moment for Pataki.  His many recent cable TV appearances, while perhaps of limited value in New Hampshire or Iowa, may become more valuable as he struggles to build national name recognition.

So where is all this taking Pataki?  Continuing his decent campaign performance, perhaps with a good break or two, he’s a plausible candidate for a senior post in a new Republican administration.  He says no, insisting that he’s not interested in anything but the presidency.  Cue the eye roll.