The news that Sen. John Cornyn, who heads the NRSC, met with former New York Gov. George Pataki this week about the state's 2010 senate race isn't a surprise. When it comes to potential statewide candidates in New York, Republicans don't have much of a political bench to speak of. But while Pataki survived three terms as governor in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, there isn’t much evidence he’s left the state GOP wanting more.
When Pataki decided not to run for a 4th term in 2006 it was for good reason. His approval ratings had hit an all-time low, and polling in early 2005 showed him trailing then-State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Once he stepped aside, the party was left largely directionless and without anyone to fill the void. And much of the blame for that was heaped on Pataki.
“I don’t think he’s earned much goodwill,” says Jeffrey Stonecash, political science professor at Syracuse University. “He never cared all that much about the state party. He never went out and raised a lot money for them.”
A 2006 editorial in the New York Sun summed up Pataki's 12-year tenure as the state's top Republican this way:
Since leaving office in 2006 Pataki has worked at a New York law firm where he's focused on renewable energy. He has been largely absent from the New York political scene in the more than two years since. Now, though, Pataki is scheduled to make an apperance at a March 4 fundraiser for congressional candidate Jim Tedisco.
In political terms, Mr. Pataki's coattails are as short as any in memory. The Republican Party barely clings to a majority in the State Senate through a combination of gerrymandering and geriatric medical care. There are three Republicans in New York City's 51-member City Council. Senator Schumer was re-elected in 2004 with more than 70% of the vote. It makes Mr. Pataki's own ability to get elected three times seem impressive, which it is, but it also underscores how in a sense he is a one-man band.
What's left as a legacy is patronage appointments and a reputation for Mr. Pataki as the leader of a state government where lobbyists like Alfonse D'Amato are the ones with the real power.
Despite Cornyn's meeting with the former governor, there is some question as to whether Pataki is actually seriously considering a senate bid. Rep. Peter King is widely expected to launch a challege to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2010.
“When [Pataki] left office his job rating wasn’t exactly stratospheric,” says Quinnipiac pollster Mickey Carroll. “Still, it’s not a crazy idea. You have to be known to win, and he has that.”
Shane D'Aprile is senior editor at Politics magazine. firstname.lastname@example.org