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Pataki presses on in New Hampshire with presidential bid

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, a candidate

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, a candidate for the GOP nomination for president, on Sept. 19, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Steve Pope

HANOVER, N.H. -- George Pataki has a lot to say about energy supply, climate change, the Islamic State group, Vladimir Putin, the federal tax code, Washington lobbyists, Obamacare, welfare, vaccines, guns and what he considers pie-in-the-sky promises by his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination.

But first, he has to get by the question he hears at every campaign stop: Why is he running?

The former New York governor is not oblivious to the fact that he's conducting a long-shot campaign for the GOP nomination. In a 14-person field, he's registering at less than 1 percent in most national polls and has been relegated to the second tier in the GOP's televised debates. With comparatively few donors, he's running on a shoestring budget, traveling with only a few aides and meeting with small groups of voters.

Pataki, though, is plugging away, putting all his effort into this state's primary and hoping for a break.

"One thing that is certain is that things will change dramatically between now and February," Pataki, referring to the date of the first GOP primary, said while shaking hands Tuesday with the breakfast crowd at the Lebanon Diner. "But I'm not going to pretend I can come in 12th in New Hampshire and continue. We have got to break into the pack."

Along the way, he fields the why-are-you-running question with doses of humor, humility and ambition.

Take his introductory remarks to an audience of 500 at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, after noting that Yale, his alma mater, is a 13-point underdog to Dartmouth in this Saturday's football matchup.

"Given where I am in the polls, I'd be delighted to be 13 points down," Pataki joked.

Or his response to about 40 at the Dartmouth College Republican Club.

"People ask me 'Why are you putting years into this?' This, to me, is a privilege," he said. "That a guy from Peekskill, New York. . . could run for president."

Persistent about running

Pataki openly has considered this race before. He traveled to New Hampshire in 1999 to try to generate support, but never declared his candidacy. And he pondered it in 2008 and 2012. His wife, Libby, once said that he wanted to run for president at some point and allies have said that Pataki, now 70 years old, didn't want to retire without giving it a shot.

Pataki hasn't attracted much in the way of donations. As of June 30, he had raised $255,795 -- the lowest for any Republican or Democrat candidate who filed a campaign report then, according to federal records.

Here's Pataki's three-minute pitch: I'm a Republican who won three gubernatorial terms (1995-2006) in heavily Democratic state and who pushed a conservative agenda. I'm not a Washington, D.C., insider but unlike Donald Trump and other "outsiders," I know how to run a government. I'll simplify the tax code, eliminating loopholes and lowering overall rates. I'll embrace science to tackle climate change, while encouraging natural gas, solar and nuclear technologies. I want to eradicate terrorist operations but won't commit to long-term troop deployment. I won't give you pie-in-the-sky promises such as ending abortion or forcing the Mexicans to pay to build a wall along the border, as Trump has vowed.

"My party has to embrace science," Pataki told the Tuck audience. "We can't be the party who, in the 21st century, doubts vaccines, doubting evolution or denies the fact that human activity is emitting CO2 in the atmosphere and that CO2 is warming the earth."

While other Republicans imply they won't compromise with Democrats, Pataki said you have to win the support of enough Democrats to get laws passed.

Targeting moderates

He is clearly targeting moderate Republicans and independents, who can vote in the New Hampshire primary. Allies suggested this is about trying to pry away voters who favor Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and, to some extent, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Pataki was greeted warmly by local Republicans during his trip. But none said they were committed to supporting him.

"I think he did a great job as governor," said Steve Malone, a former Freeport resident who now serves as town GOP chairman in Swanzey, New Hampshire. At a Pataki stop in Keene, Malone said he doesn't have a favorite but "a rotating mix of five" he's considering.

But John Lynch, the state's former Democratic governor who greeted Pataki at the business school forum, warned that the vote is still far away -- others could drop out before then -- and New Hampshire is too unpredictable to draw conclusions yet.

"You don't need to win in New Hampshire -- you just need to do a credible job," said Lynch, who ran the state from 2007 to 2014.

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