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In Crowded GOP Primary, Pataki Singles Out Trump's Immigration Comments In Debate Challenge

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Since he announced his bid for the 2016 presidential candidacy, former New York Governor and Garrison resident George Pataki (R) has laid low amidst the noise some of the other nominees have been drumming up. That is, until now.

On Monday, Pataki challenged Donald Trump to debate head-to-head in New Hampshire on the topic of immigration. Trump ignited a controversy—even among the Republican Party—after he used inflammatory language to describe Mexican immigrants during his own presidential announcement speech. Challenging “The Donald” could give Pataki the platform he needs to communicate his policies, but is Trump the right guy to challenge?

“It’s an interesting strategy,” said Samuel Abrams, professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College. “Donald Trump is not seen as serious to a lot of people, and jumping onto his coattails may or may not be such a good idea. Pataki does not have much recognition at all, so this may be a desperate attempt to raise his profile…most people are distancing themselves from [Trump] so I’m not sure you want to be affiliated with that if you want to be viewed as a serious candidate.”

Name recognition will be one of Pataki’s biggest challenges in the primary race. “He hasn’t won an election since 2002, and even in New York people have forgotten him. Outside of New York, I doubt that even one in 10 voters could even tell you who he is,” said Daniel McCarthy, associate professor of political science at the College of New Rochelle. In fact, in a Republican primary that seems to be gaining new candidates each week, Pataki has done so poorly in some national polls that he isn’t even on some aggregated polling roundups.

“I don’t think many people are going to pay attention to [the debate] unless Trump says anything outrageous,” McCarthy added. But, according to Abrams, Pataki should not be underestimated. “His position and record is very appealing to a fair number of republicans and moderates, people who are in the center, and a fair number of liberals. You have to win liberals to win New York, and he’s done that” Abrams said. “A lot of New Yorkers feel he fits the bill for what a lot of people are looking for: a person who can govern fiscally, responsibly deal with defense and domestic issues, but also to take a moderate stance on social issues.”

Although evading controversy can protect his campaign, Pataki’s moderate position could potentially hurt him in the primary. “That’s only going to help with moderates, and people who tend not to vote in republican primaries…you have to take a pretty conservative stance,” McCarthy noted.

So does Pataki have a chance in the primary? Neither Abrams nor McCarthy seemed to think that it’s realistic at this point. But, according to Abrams, “a week is an eternity in politics,” so anything can happen.