George Pataki: Is he Chris Christie without the baggage?

George Pataki and Chris Christie have more in common than gubernatorial credentials.

Dominick Reuter/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and former New York Governor George Pataki greets supporters prior to formally anouncing his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in Exeter, N.H., Thursday.

George Pataki is running for president. Will he try to be Chris Christie, minus the burden of the “Bridgegate” traffic scandal?

We ask that question because there are surface similarities between the two men. Mr. Pataki, in case you’ve forgotten, was a three-term governor of New York, leaving office in 2006. Mr. Christie is governor of next-door New Jersey. Thus both have led deep blue Democratic Northeastern states as Republicans.

Both have espoused moderate views on social issues, at least in the past, while trying to maintain a more conservative record on fiscal matters. Both are outliers in today’s conservative- and southern-dominated Republican Party.

Both remain underdogs for 2016. For Christie, that’s something of a surprise, but he’s been dogged by questions about the role aides and former associates played in creating a politically-motivated traffic jam in at the Fort Lee, N.J., end of the George Washington Bridge. Pataki’s even further behind. It’s something of a surprise that he’s running, since he’s regularly flirted with presidential bids in the past, only to demur at the last moment. The punditocracy thinks little of his chances.

“He may be a perfectly nice man but George Pataki has as much chance of becoming president as a pile of dirt,” tweeted Political correspondent Ben White on Thursday morning.

But no, Pataki isn’t Christie minus the bluster and the staff indictments. It appears as if he’s going to run as a real moderate, at least on some issues. In some ways he has no choice: As governor he was pro-choice, and pushed for legislation outlawing discrimination against gays. That puts him to the left of the other GOP contenders, including Christie.

It’s a tactic no other party hopeful has tried this cycle, as Ed Kilgore of the Washington Monthly noted earlier this week. In part that’s because the last self-declared moderate candidate was Jon Huntsman, in 2012. The former governor of Utah sank beneath the metaphorical waves so quickly there weren’t even bubbles.

“You’d have to say that the shadow of Huntsman ’12 is pretty big; nobody wants to go there at all, even if the minority of self-identified GOP moderates – and there are even some who self-identify as liberals – is a tempting target for someone trying to get into the mid-single digits in polls,” wrote Mr. Kilgore.

How will Pataki try to avoid Mr. Huntsman’s fate? Perhaps by emphasizing foreign policy hawkishness – he’s said he’d be in favor of putting US troops back on the ground in Iraq to fight the Islamic State, for instance.

If his four-minute campaign kickoff video is any indication, he’ll also promote himself as a problem-solving administrator. And he’ll try to sell himself as a uniter, not a divider.

“We need to recapture the sense that we are one people,” Pataki says in the video. “Let us all understand that what unites us is far more important than what seems superficially to divide us.”

Hmm, bringing people together, a new kind of politics. That’s not so much Chris Christie, it sounds like ... Barack Obama, 2008.

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