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Gov. George E. Pataki has picked Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis to direct a stepped-up version of his national political action committee -- a move some observers say could lead to a presidential candidacy.

Davis, who has headed the local GOP since 1996, was mentioned as a possible statewide chairman until Pataki appointed Monroe County Republican Chairman Stephen J. Minarik III earlier this week. But this latest move is seen as beyond a consolation prize for Davis, since it will involve him in Pataki's increasing efforts to participate in national Republican politics.

Called the 21st Century Freedom PAC, the fund has existed since 1999. Its seven directors unanimously approved Davis as its chairman and only upstate member Thursday afternoon in New York. Now its new leader says he expects its activity to quicken.

Davis said the PAC enables Pataki "to support candidates who believe in Republican principles and to be more active on the national scene. I'm really excited about it."

Davis acknowledged that plans for a more active Pataki will add to speculation about the governor's national ambitions, but dismissed it as premature.

"I don't want to read anything like that into it now," he said. "He's still our candidate for governor in '06 until he says otherwise."

The committee's first event under Davis' direction will take place in January at the inauguration of President Bush. He said several parties and gatherings will be available to donors to the Pataki fund.

Reports filed with the state Board of Elections indicate that the state version of the Pataki PAC was terminated in September 2003. However, Davis said that this coincided with new federal campaign finance laws, which required reorganization, and that both state and federal accounts will be maintained.

As a result, no dollar amount for the PAC is available, and Davis said he has yet to receive those reports.

Calls to Pataki's office seeking comment were not returned.


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