“There’s a great sense that there are a lot of very good Republican candidates but that the field is wide open,” Pataki said in a phone interview.

Pataki, like the other dark horses, is counting on New Hampshire’s reputation as the retail politics capital of America. Voters in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state prize face-to-face interaction with candidates, and they’ve helped make no-name contenders into national stars.

Although he’s a former Republican governor in a field full of current GOP governors with much higher profiles, Pataki is counting on his proposed lobbying ban to help him stand out.

“Every time I’ve run for office, I’ve never expected I announce and the seas part and the trumpets blare,” he said. He’s used to “starting at the bottom and working hard and working my way up.”