George Pataki, the three-term governor who led New York through the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on Tuesday quit the race for the Republican presidential nomination. He lagged a large field that is dominated by one of his former constituents, billionaire developer Donald Trump.
“While tonight is the end of my journey for the White House as I suspend my campaign for president, I’m confident we can elect the right person—someone who can bring us together,” the 70-year-old former governor said in his campaign valedictory: a video announcement made on YouTube and in a prime-time TV advertisement in the three early voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
Pataki, who made his announcement days before books closed on the campaign fundraising quarter, never gained traction in the polls.
The New Yorker who did, Trump, dismissed Pataki's departure from the race as insignificant, telling an Iowa audience Tuesday night that “there's not much to split up because he's at zero.” To some, Pataki's poor showing and early departure says as much about the nature of the race as it does about him.
“This just further proves that this is not the year for the establishment candidate,” Al D'Amato, who represented New York in the U.S. Senate, said in statement to Bloomberg Politics.
Pataki is the fifth major Republican candidate to drop out of the race, and the fourth governor or former governor to do so. His decision winnows the party's field to 11 major candidates. Trump is leading national polls, but recent surveys in Iowa, the state that will cast the first ballots of the 2016 presidential contest, give U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas the lead there. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, has struggled to gain traction despite a huge campaign war chest but has been on the attack against Trump and another rival, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Ohio Governor John Kasich have been focusing most of their efforts on New Hampshire, which will hold a presidential primary Feb. 9.
Pataki was the first of the presidential candidates to take on Trump, posting a July letter on his website calling for Republicans to “Stand Up to Trump” on immigration:
"One hundred years ago, when Irish immigrants were coming to America, my grandmother among them, they were too often characterized as "drunks." A few years later it was the Italian immigrants, my grandfather among them, who were called "mobsters" or worse, "dagos." This type of divisive rhetoric is just wrong. It was wrong 100 years ago and it’s wrong today.
Yet here we are in 2015 and Donald Trump a leading candidate for the GOP nomination for president is calling Mexicans criminals, rapists and drug dealers. This is unacceptable."
From the moment Pataki formally announced his candidacy, in May, his views on social issues—particularly on abortion access and gay rights—set him apart from his rivals. His wife, Libby Pataki, described him that month as a “voice of moderation,” telling the New York Times, “I think his message is where the Republican Party should be.”
In October, at part one of CNBC’s “Your Money, Your Vote” debate, Pataki criticized other members of his party for their approach to climate science and vaccinations. “One of the things that troubles me about the Republican Party,” he said, “is too often we question science that everyone accepts. I mean, it's ridiculous in the 21st century we are questioning whether or not vaccines are the appropriate way to go. Of course they are. And it's also not appropriate to think that human activity, putting CO2 into the atmosphere, doesn't make the earth warmer, all things being equal. It does. It's uncontroverted."
Even before he officially entered the race, Pataki acknowledged the quixotic nature of his bid. He spent April tooling around New Hampshire in a gray Mitsubishi Spyder driven by a lone aide as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton made headlines with her tour in a black van.
In the spring, as he said he was “leaning” toward a run, he was fond of telling The Joke. It goes something like this: Three things happen in four-year cycles—the World Cup, the Olympics, and George Pataki comes to New Hampshire. The two previous times, in 2008 and 2012, Pataki didn't pull the trigger. This time he did, but his campaign missed its mark.
(Contributing: Kevin Cirilli, Jennifer Epstein)