George Pataki, the newest addition to the packed Republican White House race, said Thursday the bottom of the pack is the best place to start, as he kicked off his long-shot presidential bid in New Hampshire.
The former three-term New York governor, who led the Empire State through the trauma of 9/11, promised to upset predictions he has little chance in one of the deepest GOP presidential fields in years, in a campaign in which he barely registers in polls of the nationwide race or in swing states.
Pataki said the current state of the race reminded him of when he mounted a long odds run for governor in New York in 1994 and knocked off Democratic icon Mario Cuomo.
“No one had heard of me … I was a Republican in deep blue New York,” Pataki told CNN in an interview after a small event in the same Smuttynose Brewery in Hampton, New Hampshire, where Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton held a much more high-profile gathering last week.
“It took me months to get a crowd like this, to go anywhere in New York, to think I had a chance. But you work hard, you have the right ideas and over time convince people that you are the person to lead the country,” he said. “I have always started at the bottom, I think it is the best way to do it. You appreciate something more when you earn it.”
Earlier, Pataki had launched his campaign in the sweltering Old Town Hall in Exeter, New Hampshire, the town where the Republican Party was founded, after releasing a four-minute announcement video which made the case that if the nation is to flourish “we have to fall in love with America again.”
At this point, Pataki’s campaign looks like a lonely quest: No prominent elected officials or donors have stepped forward to trumpet his bid in a field that many top Republicans tout as one of the most competitive they have ever seen.
Given his lack of support, it is unlikely that Pataki will make the first Republican debate, which will be limited to the top 10 Republican hopefuls. That could stifle any efforts to increase his name identification among next year’s voters.
But Pataki isn’t likely to run a national campaign, if the pre-announcement build-up is any indication. He has dedicated most of his travel to New Hampshire, the second nominating contest where a tradition of small events and face-to-face campaigning gives him an outside chance to build some momentum.
He can pin some hope on the fact that the Granite State does tend to support more moderate Republicans, cut from the same cloth as Pataki, who supports conservation, same-sex marriage and gun control.
Even before he formally became a candidate, Pataki chose to air a television advertisement in New Hampshire panning his party for focusing on social issues, something he deemed a “distraction.”
“Defeating Islamic terrorists, shrinking government, growing the economy – these are the issues that matter most,” Pataki says in the advertisement that began airing in mid-April. “Instead we’re debating social issues like abortion and gay rights.”
Pataki has also shown himself in the early stages to be one of the more hawkish presidential aspirants. The former governor said on CNN’s “New Day” last week that the United States should deploy troops back to Iraq to fight growing Islamist threats, a position not expressed by his colleagues in the fray.
“I don’t want to see us putting in a million soldiers, spend 10 years, a trillion dollars, trying to create a democracy where one hasn’t existed,” Pataki said. “But send in troops, destroy their training centers, destroy their recruitment centers, destroy the area where they are looking to plan to attack us here and then get out.”
Pataki seems to be embracing the distance between him and his Republican rivals, positioning himself as an anti-establishment candidate despite lacking the tea party panache of more popular presidential aspirants like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.
Pataki and his aides have telegraphed that he plans to run as an outsider, naming the super PAC supporting his bid as, “We the People Not Washington.”
A lawyer by trade, Pataki rose from being the mayor of the Westchester County hamlet of Peekskill through the New York state legislature. In the fall of 1994, Pataki ousted liberal darling Mario Cuomo to become New York’s first Republican governor in two decades.
Pataki shepherded laws through Albany that reduced some tax rates and increased sentences for criminals committing hate crimes. He also governed New York as the state recovered from the 9/11 attacks that occurred a year before voters elected him to a third term.
He declined to run for a fourth term in 2006, and Democratic attorney general Eliot Spitzer succeeded him.
Pataki stoked speculation that he would run in 2008 and in 2012, but this is the year he has chosen to follow through.