As he tentatively takes steps in the direction of a White House run, former New York Gov. George Pataki stepped down as chairman of Revere America, his anti-healthcare reform group that raised and spent about $2.6 million on target congressional races.
His decision comes just days after a Florida judge ruled that the entire health care overhaul was unconstitutional.
“This is an excellent time for me to step down, based on my other commitments and the fact that Revere America has been successfully launched,” Pataki said in a statement Wednesday.
Pataki, who weighed and passed up runs for the White House in 2000 and 2008, would rely on his recent crusade against President Barack Obama’s health care law, his enduring national fundraising base and the hope of an internal Republican reaction against the tea party and toward a center-right, pro-choice leader, a spokesman told POLITICO in January.
He would enter the race as a long shot, at least on the order of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: He’s been out of office for five years and left a record of environmental regulation, compromise with labor and bigger government that’s at odds with the GOP’s center of gravity. He also occupies a political space that’s not altogether different than Mitt Romney, but without the former Massachusetts governor’s money, national profile or political infrastructure.
“He’s taking a look at it,” Pataki’s chief political adviser, David Catalfamo, said of a 2012 run. “But regardless of what he ultimately decides, he plans on being involved in the national dialogue.”
“He’s concerned about the direction of the country, whether it be health care, the economy, the lack of jobs and certainly homeland security,” he said. “He’s going to remain an outspoken voice on those issues.”
Catalfamo also said he was “looking around” at the field, and “ultimately he needs to answer the questions” of “who has the ideas to move our country forward and who has the best chance of being successful.”
“He’s very aware of the timetables, and if he decides to move forward, he’ll provide himself enough opportunities to be successful,” he said.
In his only public comment on a possible 2012 bid, Pataki said in early January on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,”
“We’ll see what happens. That’s a year from now.”
While a Pataki campaign is improbable, it isn’t entirely inconceivable.
He passed on a run against New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, leaving his 2012 options open. Instead he ramped up his national profile with Revere America, spending $1.5 million on contests in New Hampshire, the first primary state.
Pataki’s issue of choice – healthcare — could work to his advantage as he tries to move past Romney, who would be one of the biggest obstacles between him and the nomination.
New York’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks, a claim he shared with former Gov. Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 race, also plays a role in Pataki’s case for a potential presidential bid. In 2008, however, Pataki’s national campaign ambitions languished and he backed the better-known Giuliani.
The main early reaction to Pataki’s exploration has been skepticism.
“George Pataki running for president in 2012 is wishing and hoping,” said Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College in New York.
In a national race, Muzzio said Pataki is “on the wrong side of the culture war, even though he’s trying to cross that line to make himself more acceptable to the Republican base.”
Pataki also has personal reasons to take a pass. The former Peekskill mayor and state legislator is making a healthy private sector salary for the first time in his life, and boosters say they aren’t sure if he’ll give that up for the rigors of a long-shot campaign.
But some of Pataki’s old allies, while skeptical, say he has a shot.
“Among some of our people, he would be considered very favorably,” said longtime New York Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long. “There’s nothing impossible in this world, but there are clearly other candidates who are in better position right now. But in the game of politics, a year and a half is a long time.”
Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman contributed to this report.