Former New York Governor George Pataki may choose to enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination in the near future, and the popular reaction to the news can be summed up in one word: why?
The 66-year-old Pataki has not held elected office in five years, and he has not played a public role in national politics since leaving Albany. He has little to no campaign infrastructure, and will be at a financial disadvantage to candidates who have spent years planning their presidential bids. Furthermore, Pataki’s record as Governor of New York — which includes an expansion of Medicaid, generous deals for municipal unions, and support for marriage equality and abortion rights — is completely out of step with the ultra-conservative rhetoric that has dominated the presidential race so far. As one GOP insider told the New York Daily News, “Among a lot of New York Republicans the general sense is that [Pataki running for President] doesn’t make sense.” There’s no question that Pataki would be the longest of longshots to capture the nomination.
Why, then, would he bother to run at all? Longshot candidates often hope to bring attention to an important issue that they feel is being overlooked, and that may be Pataki’s motivation; last month he told AOL that he wanted to be “actively involved in the race” so that he could start a meaningful debate on America’s energy policy. Pataki hopes to give states greater freedom to set their own policies on natural gas hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”). It will be difficult, however, for Pataki to steer attention towards fracking and away from more explosive issues such as the war in Afghanistan, a potential repeal of the healthcare law, and the looming battle over what to do with the Bush tax cuts.
Pataki may be trying to drum up business for Chadbourne & Parke LLP, the powerful New York City law firm at which Pataki currently practices energy, environmental and corporate law. Debating America’s energy policy on the national stage promises to raise Pataki’s public profile and increase the credibility of his private law practice.
It is also possible that Pataki genuinely thinks he can win. Recent statements by Mitt Romney and Jon Hunstman reflect a growing sense that the controversial views of Tea Party favorites Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry may leave an opening for a moderate Republican to surprise everyone and steal the nomination.
In any case, the most important question surrounding Pataki’s potential candidacy might not be the one that pundits are asking — “why?” — but rather the one that voters will be asking: “who?”