Former New York Gov. George Pataki speaks to guests gathered...

Former New York Gov. George Pataki speaks to guests gathered for the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center on May 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Credit: Getty Images / Scott Olson

CONCORD, N.H. -- Former New York Gov. George Pataki Thursday tried to turn his underdog status in the race for the Republican nomination for president into an asset, saying only an outsider such as himself can rein in an out-of-control Washington, which he said is poisoning the American dream he has lived.

"We have to fall in love with America again," Pataki, 69, said over coffee at Me & Ollie's Cafe after his announcement speech. "The biggest fear of our Founding Fathers was not too weak a government, but too strong a government."

He took a swipe at the tax code -- "74,600 pages of incomprehensible gobbledygook filled with carve-outs" -- and retired Congress members who become lobbyists: He would ban them. He also called for strengthening the military to take on Islamic State terrorists.

Pataki made the announcement in a small town hall where presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln spoke in 1860. The setting hearkened to Pataki's roots as mayor of Peekskill in the Hudson Valley. He noted that he is the son of a farmer who also delivered mail and was captain of the fire department, and that his mother gave up a scholarship to Cornell University to work as a waitress during the Great Depression.

He mixed policy -- such as calling for an end to Common Core in schools -- his record of fiscal conservatism, his leadership moments after Sept. 11, 2001, and his biography in the lengthy speech. He also took shots at Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, former U.S. senator from New York.

"It seems like liberals have so much compassion for the poor that they keep creating more of them," Pataki said.

The announcement and a whirlwind of broadcast interviews and a plan to knock on doors around New Hampshire is an effort to get known in the important primary state where he hasn't yet registered in polls.

He said his underdog status reminds him of his first run for governor, when he was an unknown Hudson Valley legislator who defeated Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo.

"No one had heard of me," Pataki said. "But I knew I had the right ideas, the right vision . . . the polls never bothered me."

"He was very knowledgeable about the issues that affect us as parents," said Deb Hobson, 46, of South Kingston after meeting Pataki at the cafe. "I like him very much. I didn't know much about him before," said the mother of two.

"I looked at what happened after Sept. 11 and how he led and brought the state back economically," said David Dalrymple, 73, a retired airline worker from Salem, New Hampshire. "I think he's one of the honest politicians."

But despite a rash of TV ads weeks ago and steady campaigning in New Hampshire dating to the winter, few know Pataki so far in the crowded field of Republican candidates headed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

"The smart money will dismiss Pataki. But smart money often misses the thunderbolts that strike in New Hampshire's presidential primaries," said Bruce Gyory, a political scientist at the state University at Albany who studies voter trends.

He cited U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts in 1964 and Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2000, who won New Hampshire primaries despite long odds.

Like McCain, who called himself a maverick, Pataki has a more moderate record than his opponents, which could stand out in New Hampshire, where voters not enrolled in a party can vote in the GOP primary.

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