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George Pataki's Moderate Record Makes Him a Very Long Shot in GOP Race

This record will make it very hard for Pataki to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination in 2016.
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The expanding field of Republican presidential candidates grew by one more Thursday when former New York Governor George Pataki announced his candidacy in New Hampshire. Pataki’s entrance is just the latest in an expanding 2016 presidential field with candidates representing a broad range of views within the party.

In 1999, Pataki called for the Republican Party to change its platform and remove language that emphasized the GOP’s opposition to abortion rights. A year later, he signed into law what the New York Times called the “Nation’s Strictest Gun Controls,” banning assault weapons and some ammunition clips and expanding background checks. He opposed the efforts of Republicans in Congress to cut spending on Medicaid.

Pataki won three terms as governor of New York, a traditionally liberal state, serving from 1995 to 2007.

But Pataki was popular in New York in part because he reflected its politics. He was to the left of the Republicans nationally, strongly so on issues like gun control.

This record will make it very hard for Pataki to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination in 2016. Strong gun control measures are verboten in conservative politics. Every modern Republican presidential nominee has opposed abortion rights.

Ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani had a similar record to Pataki but also the extra fame from having been a key leader in helping the city recover from the Sept. 11 attacks. He didn’t win a single primary during his 2008 presidential run.

Mitt Romney eventually became the GOP presidential nominee, reversing liberal positions he had taken during his rise in Massachusetts politics. But Romney spent from 2006 to 2012 appealing to the Republican Party, even then only reluctantly getting conservatives to back him.

Pataki's other big challenge is that he has been largely out of politics since leaving the governor’s office in 2007. He has not been a prominent figure in the Obama era, unlike most of the other 2016 Republican candidates.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also left office in 2007 and hasn’t served since. But he remained deeply involved in GOP politics while out of office, and his last name is Bush, so conservative voters have some broad recognition of him.

If Republican debates are limited to candidates who rate highly in polls, Pataki is so unknown he may never make it on stage.

To put it bluntly, there’s almost no way Pataki will win the GOP nomination. The former governor is casting himself as a fiscal conservative who downplays cultural issues like abortion, has a proven record of winning in a blue state and strongly opposes Obamacare and high government spending.

If the Republicans want this kind of candidate, they already have plenty of choices. Bush, Florida. Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have many of the same credentials. Bush and Walker both governed from the right and won reelection in blue states, so they will be able to cast Pataki as insufficiently conservative.

And if Republicans are looking for candidates beyond that trio, they are likely to tap Ohio Gov. John Kasich before Pataki. Kasich, after all, won elections recently (2010 and 2014) in a very important swing state and could bring Ohio to the GOP in 2016.

Pataki, on the other hand, would be very unlikely to defeat Hillary Clinton in New York in a general election.

Pataki may be running with hopes of winning but really to increase his notoriety in politics, positioning himself for a Cabinet slot or as a television commentator. He could achieve those goals through a presidential campaign. But his best chances to run for president and win were in 2000 or 2008, when Pataki was still an influential figure in American politics.