Pataki out of presidential race

It didn’t take long for Pataki-mentum to come to a halt — at least on a national level.  Just a few days after floating the notion of a run for the Republican presidential nomination, the former governor of New York has decided not to throw his hat in the ring, and has canceled a trip to Iowa this weekend:

Former New York Gov. George Pataki will not run for the Republican presidential nomination, a source close to him told CNN.

Pataki, who had been flirting with a White House bid for months, was scheduled to appear this weekend in the key early voting state of Iowa.

The New York Times is still scratching its collective head:

Mr. Pataki, whose flirtations with running for president stretch back more than a decade, canceled a planned trip to Iowa this weekend and will not pursue the Republican nomination, according to news reports on Friday.

Mr. Pataki, 66, who served three terms as governor, from 1995 through 2006, prompted considerable head-scratching this week after signaling that he might declare his candidacy at a Republican picnic in Des Moines on Saturday. On Wednesday, what appeared to be a draft of a campaign Web site was uncovered by The New York Observer, raising expectations further.

Mr. Pataki notched several trips this year to Iowa and New Hampshire, another early voting state, in his capacity as honorary chairman of No American Debt, a group that favors reducing the federal debt and is critical of President Obama.

We had some fun at Governor Pataki’s expense earlier this week, but let’s take a serious look at him as a potential candidate — but not in the presidential race.  Pataki had a successful run as a Republican Governor in a Democratic state, winning three terms as governor and leaving with a fairly impressive approval rating.  Pataki isn’t a Tea Party conservative, of course, but New York isn’t a Tea Party state.  He knows how to win and position himself as a serious, consensus candidate.

Pataki has a chance to come to Washington through another route.  Kirsten Gillibrand will run for her first full term in the US Senate in 2012.  She has mostly been a non-entity in Washington; Chuck Schumer gets all of the press coverage, while Gillibrand remains all but invisible.  In normal cycles, that wouldn’t be a big problem — but this isn’t a normal cycle.  Democrats will have Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, who is much more likely to act as an anchor rather than a sail for down-ticket races.  He’s underwater in the state, 45/49 on job approval in the latest Quinnipiac poll.

While New York is not likely to vote for a Republican nominee in 2012’s general election (not even Mitt Romney), Obama’s presence on the ticket will not encourage big turnout on the Left.  It will, however, push bigger turnout on the Right, and independents in New York who want to send a message to Obama might be inclined to deprive the Democrats of a seat in the Senate rather than pulling the lever for a Republican in the White House.  New York voters know Pataki well; he can’t be painted as a scary Tea Party terrorist, and he has more gravitas in one eyebrow than Gillibrand has been able to muster as Hillary Clinton’s replacement in three years.  Gillibrand might have found herself out of a job in 2010 had Republicans found a serious challenger for the race.

Pataki had no chance in a presidential race this cycle, but he could still make a big impact in Washington by taking on Gillibrand.  Let’s hope he’s up for a different kind of campaign.