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George Pataki set to announce a long-shot run for president

Former New York Gov. George Pataki speaks to

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

EXETER, N.H. -- To many of New Hampshire's influential primary voters, former New York Gov. George Pataki, who is scheduled to announce his run for president here Thursday, is still mostly a trivia game answer.

"I just haven't heard his name in a long time," said Deanna Tinios, 53, of Hampton, a loyal Republican primary voter. "You hear Jeb Bush and, of course, Hillary, but Governor Pataki, not at all."

Pataki has been out of office for nearly a decade. He's not registering in New Hampshire polls, and his moderate record as New York governor could be a drawback in primaries dominated by the extremes of each party. But that is part of what his campaign is about: connecting with those who believe the big names haven't produced for what Norma Cheney, 64, calls the neglected middle class.

"I was one of those victims of Obamacare," said Cheney, who runs a real estate agency in Exeter. She said her New Hampshire insurance carrier left the state when President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act began.

Obamacare is a major issue for Pataki, who traveled nationwide to oppose it. He also mounted issues campaigns in recent years to try to draw Washington's attention to the growing debt, and now is pushing for military intervention against Islamic State group militants.

Pataki has been unknown before. He was "George Who?" in a tabloid headline in 1994 when he was the Republican nominee for governor under the wing of Sen. Alfonse D'Amato. He rose to become one of the nation's most successful Republicans in a strongly Democratic state after carrying off one of the biggest upsets in American politics by unseating Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994.

Today in the Republican pack for president, Pataki is a long shot again. But there also is no clear favorite to overcome.

"We are in uncharted territory, so I would be very reticent to throw anyone in or out," said Sal Russo, a California-based Republican strategist whose campaigns include Barry Goldwater's run for president and Ronald Reagan's run for governor, as well as work for Pataki and New York Rep. Jack Kemp.

Pataki bills himself as "a Republican following in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, who understands that conservatism isn't just economic policy, but it's also preserving and enhancing the outdoors."

That's the kind of moderate argument he will ply to try to take advantage of New Hampshire's practice of allowing voters not enrolled in a party to vote in the primary.

But few see a path for Pataki through New Hampshire, let alone to the White House.

"He admits that he's heading into a very uphill battle," said Mike Long, the New York State Conservative Party chairman. " . . . He's totally aware of those odds, but he really feels he has something to contribute."

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