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A Q&A with soon-to-be-presidential candidate George Pataki

EXETER, N.H. – Thursday morning at 11 o’clock, George Pataki will step into Exeter Town Hall in this historic New Hampshire town and announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

En route to New Hampshire Wednesday afternoon, the former New York governor talked to The News about what it’ll take to mount a successful campaign in a state that literally makes presidential politicking a door-to-door endeavor. Here’s an edited version of the interview:

Q: What’s it like campaigning in the diners, coffee shops and living rooms of New Hampshire?

A: People expect to ask you a question while you’re looking them in the eye and not after you’ve consulted a pollster. I’ve always thought that’s the best type of politics – when you just get to meet people directly. Talk to them, hear them, listen to them, let them listen to you. They get a sense not just of what you stand for but who you are. To me, that’s the best of politics and it’s one of the things about New Hampshire that’s a lot like my political career when I was running for mayor (of Peekskill) and the State Legislature.

Q: People tend to remember New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, not you, when thinking back to the aftermath of 9/11. Given how important name recognition is to launching a presidential campaign, do you wish people remembered more about the work you did during the recovery?

A: If I had one wish, it would be that it never happened in the first place. It wasn’t a time to promote yourself or gain publicity. It was a time to lead in the way that was required so that you could help to restore people’s confidence, and protect people, and bring things back to beyond where they had been before as quickly as possible … I thought it was critical that we have one public face during that crisis. Mayor Giuliani did a tremendous job as that public face. All of us did tremendous jobs, I think – the city, the state and FEMA, which in that instance came through incredibly well in bringing us together through a very difficult time.

Q: So you’re fine with not being in the forefront, but how does that translate in a presidential campaign, where the limelight is important?

A: It’s hard work, it’s the right ideas, and it’s being perfectly willing to stand up and say what you believe. People were saying the same thing when I ran for governor. I was an unknown from Peekskill, N.Y., had virtually never raised any big money. How could this person not only beat Mario Cuomo but be one of only two Republicans in 70 years – the other being Nelson Rockefeller – to win a governor’s race in New York? But I knew I could do it if I worked hard and had the right ideas. It’s not about self-promotion. It’s about promotion of a vision of ideas, and of convincing people of your ability not just have that vision, but actually implement it if they give you the chance to lead. As I go forward here, I’m hopeful the people of America will see that same ability to lead and that same vision for a better future and get behind our efforts.

Q: How do you get through the down moments – the frustrating moments – of a campaign?

A: I’ve had a few. I remember the Daily News did a poll when I was running the first time for governor. The Sunday before the election had me down 17 points and I remember the reporter, who was very kind, actually starting out by saying, “I hate to have to ask you this question, but you’re 17 points behind with four days to go. What are you going to do?” Obviously, it throws you off for the moment; you had hoped the results would be better. But then you just go about what you believe in: Talking to people, letting them know your views, convincing them you’re the right person to lead.