2008 Dark Horse Watch
“A dark horse which had never been thought of … rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph.”
–Benjamin Disraeli, The Young Duke.
Thus the term “dark horse” was first used in 1831 by British novelist, poet and future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli – in reference to racehorses that were blackened to conceal their true identities, thus increasing betting odds.
Thirteen years later, the expression that’s now synonymous with “unexpected success” made its way across the Atlantic and into the American political lexicon forever in the person of James K. Polk, who won the Democratic Presidential nomination on the eighth ballot en route to an improbable White House victory.
Of course South Carolinians know something about “dark horse” candidates themselves – having elected two of them in succession to the highest office in the state – but they may be surprised to hear the name of the latest “dark horse” potentially testing the 2008 GOP Presidential waters in this reddest of Republican states.
We all know Arizona Senator John McCain, and lately we’ve seen a lot of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Virginia Senator George Allen – both of whom are making serious early plays for support in the Palmetto state’s “First in the South” primary. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback are names we’ve heard mentioned as well, and even former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has paid a visit to South Carolina.
As it presently stands, McCain holds a commanding lead in the polls here, and rumors abound that former Bush strategist Warren Tompkins (the architect of McCain’s 2000 primary defeat in South Carolina) is even courting the Arizona Senator’s business. And why not? None of the would-be challengers to the McCain 2008 movement have picked up much in the way of traction here, despite their best efforts to the contrary.
Yet there is one “dark horse” who’s been absent from South Carolina – and as a result from our newspaper clippings, radio call-in shows and political blog discussion boards – a fiscal conservative with impeccable tax relief credentials, de facto ownership of the anti-terror issue and a strong anti-crime, pro-environment, pro-business, pro-welfare reform record that’s turned his state around despite the devastating impact of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Who is this “dark horse,” you may ask?
New York Gov. George Pataki.
Consider these impressive numbers since Pataki became New York State’s first conservative Republican governor in 1995:
- $100 billion in tax cuts
- 600,000 new jobs
- 1 million fewer welfare recipients
- 50% decrease in violent crime
- 1 million acres of newly-protected land
Pataki, 60, is currently the longest-serving governor in America – having been elected three times in a row in a state that’s bluer than Al Gore’s underwear.
In fact, since Pataki’s 1994 upset win over Democrat Mario Cuomo (who was endorsed by, of all people, Rudy Giuliani), New Yorkers have sent Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton to the U.S. Senate and outvoted Republicans 12 million to 6 million in the past three presidential elections.
Last July Pataki announced he would not seek a fourth term as governor, prompting speculation regarding his future aspirations.
But since then, as Giuliani and McCain’s candidacies have generated considerable fanfare, Pataki has remained remarkably quiet. And though Pataki is a friend of popular S.C. Governor Mark Sanford – who recently touted his “free agent” status in spite of his starring role in the 2000 McCain insurgency – neither the New York governor nor members of his team have treaded on South Carolina soil … until this weekend, that is.
Quietly, representatives of Pataki’s “21st Century Freedom PAC” slipped into Charleston and Columbia over the past two days for a series of initial, informal political visits as nonchalant as they were unreported … until now, that is.
While hardly planting a flag, Pataki’s crew certainly didn’t waste any time putting their ears to the ground.
Many say a socially-moderate, pro-choice candidate like Pataki doesn’t stand a chance in South Carolina. That may be true, as evidenced by the steady diet of red meat candidates Allen and Romney have consistently fed to social conservatives here as well as this weekend in Memphis at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, which Pataki did not attend.
Interestingly enough, though, abortions are on the decline in New York under Pataki’s watch, he’s been endorsed by a number of pro-life groups at various points in his political career and he’s consistently opposed partial-birth abortions, the new demarcation line on this issue among many independent voters.
Whether that combination is enough to ward off attacks in a state that still boasts a sizeable (albeit declining) mass of Christian Coalitioners remains to be seen, but the presumed suspicion of social conservatives is Pataki’s only glaring weakness in contemplating the South Carolina Presidential primary landscape.
Pataki’s strengths, on the other hand, begin with 9/11. While Allen, Romney and the others can mirror Bush’s 2004 re-election strategy by beating the drum against international terrorists, Pataki (along with Giuliani) can beat the same drum having personally taken their best shot in his home state – a crisis he’s brought his people and their economy back from stronger and more vibrant than ever. Add to the 9/11 bump Pataki’s impressive tax-cutting credentials and job creation numbers, and you’ve got the makings of a winning conservative message that should play incredibly well here in South Carolina.
So will Pataki run?
Who knows … with the entry fee for a Presidential bid approaching $100 million and the 2008 field already beginning to take shape without him, Pataki is approaching put-up-or-shut-up time if he wants to follow three former New York governors into the choice digs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
If Pataki is seriously contemplating a run at the White House, chances are you’d start seeing some initial signs of political activity developing in South Carolina right around now … perhaps even a nonchalant, unreported visit or two by members of his team.
Wait a minute ... to be continued.