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George Pataki in the 2012 presidential race? His assets and drawbacks.

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William B. Plowman/AP Images for DCI Group/File

(Read caption) In this image, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (l.) and former New York Gov. George Pataki, host a non-partisan symposium on Capitol Hill to discuss the nation's growing debt crisis, on June 16, in Washington. Some sources say Pataki may announce a 2012 presidential candidacy as early as next week.

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Perhaps it’s news of Rick Perry’s recently announced candidacy, but talk lately seems to center not just on the already crowded Republican field, but also on how much bigger it might grow.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani have all generated buzz recently – in some cases, it seems, prompted more by wishful thinking on the part of GOP insiders rather than by the potential candidates themselves.

The latest Republican to attract rumors of an imminent bid is former New York Gov. George Pataki. Mr. Pataki confirmed just a few weeks ago (during a visit to New Hampshire, following a trip to Iowa) that he was considering entering the race, and now some sources say he may announce a 2012 presidential candidacy as early as next week.

Why would Pataki – a moderate Republican who favors gay and abortion rights, has been friendly to unions, and has relatively low national name recognition – decide to seek a nomination at this late stage?

According to Pataki, he was disturbed by the lack of leadership on the debt crisis.

"A Republican has to make as part of their campaign how they're going deal with the deficit and debt issue,” he told NBC News. “We have to have solutions. So far, I haven’t heard that. I'm certainly looking to see if someone has that plan in the tone of their campaign."

He has made the debt issue a focus in recent months, forming the No American Debt advocacy group.

As some observers have noted, the current field of Republican candidates is not only relatively weak, but also leans heavily to the conservative, anti-establishment types – perhaps opening up space for a candidate like Pataki.

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Still, it will be hard for someone with such a low national profile to gain momentum at this late date, and his policies seem to run counter to the current mood of the activist Republican base, who will choose the candidate. And he has many similarities with the current front-runner, Mitt Romney – also a former governor of a Northeast state, also relatively moderate.

While Pataki may be focusing on containing debt now, some fellow Republicans question the example he set in Albany.

"Pataki the first two years was great; then we went on a spending binge," Assemblyman Thomas Kirwan, an upstate Republican, told the New York Daily News. "The federal debt run-up was rivaled only by what we did in New York under George Pataki."

According to blogger Nate Silver, who recently mapped GOP candidates and potential candidates onto the political and establishment spectrum, a Pataki candidacy is likely to be eclipsed by Mr. Romney, at least without more chance to introduce himself to voters.

Governor Christie and Representative Ryan, on the other hand, might take up some ideological space not currently filled – if either of them could be persuaded to run.

Ms. Palin, meanwhile, is generating more rumors with a new Iowa-focused video and a trip to that state planned for next week.

Given President Obama’s relative vulnerability, as well as the relative weakness of the current field of GOP candidates, it’s almost certain that more Republicans will enter, though they need to do so soon. Still, as Bill Clinton showed in 1992, getting into the race late isn’t always a disadvantage.


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