WASHINGTON -- Lobbyist and former Republican New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato Wednesday endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president, bypassing the long-shot White House bid by George Pataki, whom D'Amato helped elect New York governor two decades ago.
In an interview, D'Amato said he's backing Kasich because he's the only Republican candidate who can assure victory in Ohio, a state the GOP must win to capture the White House next year.
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"You don't win if you don't carry Ohio," D'Amato said. "The one candidate who has demonstrated he can carry Ohio is Governor Kasich."CartoonsCartoons: GOP debatesOpinionEditorial: 4 important takeaways from the first debateCommentaryOpinion: Politicians have terrible fixes for student-loans
He said Kasich has shown himself to be a "proven leader."
As a governor, Kasich turned Ohio's budget deficit into a surplus, he said.
And as a congressman for 18 years, Kasich mastered federal spending as the House Budget Committee chairman and learned to understand the Pentagon as a House Armed Services Committee member.
"He's got substance, he's got compassion, he's got strength," D'Amato said.
As "a common-sense guy," Kasich has a chance to win the New Hampshire primary, D'Amato added.
"I think he's going to surprise some people," he said.
D'Amato said he passed over both New Yorkers running for president because he doesn't think they can win Ohio.
D'Amato cast doubt on the presidential bid of Pataki, who has finished low in the polls and failed to make the cut for the 10 candidates in the recent prime-time Fox News debate.
In 1994, D'Amato hand-picked Pataki, then a little known state senator from Garrison, as the GOP candidate to challenge, and defeat, Democrat Gov. Mario Cuomo.
"He's a friend. He's bright. He's articulate," D'Amato said of Pataki. "But there is no way he can carry Ohio. I think that is an absolute necessity."
Pataki's campaign did not respond to queries for comment.
D'Amato credited Donald Trump, the billionaire current leading polls of the crowded field, for "awakening" people.
"People are very distressed at the politics of usual. He's doing incredibly well, notwithstanding his outspokenness," D'Amato said.
"I think he has touched a lot of people by his candor," he said, "but I think he'd have a difficult time carrying Ohio."
The Trump campaign did not respond to queries.
D'Amato, a lobbyist in New York and Washington since he lost to Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer in 1998, said he will help Kasich however he can. "He came to the contest later than all of the others," D'Amato said. He'll help Kasich raise funds, he added.