the Insiders


September 3, 2008 7:50 PM


Pataki's Star Turn

If you came to the Twin Cities looking for action, the opening of the Republican National Convention has left a lot to be desired.Partly, it's that things on Wednesday were only just beginning to get back to normal after Hurricane...

If you came to the Twin Cities looking for action, the opening of the Republican National Convention has left a lot to be desired.

Partly, it's that things on Wednesday were only just beginning to get back to normal after Hurricane Gustav wreaked more damage on the political calendar than the State of Louisiana. And partly, it's because there just don't seem to be as many must-attend events as there were in Denver with the Democrats.

On Wednesday night, the One Campaign and the Recording Industry Association of America was due to host its big RNC event. In Denver, their big night was headlined by Kanye West. Here, it was a fourth place "American Idol" finalist named Chris Daughtry.

Then, there were the proceedings themselves. Why were there so many empty seats in the Excel Center? And why didn't Joe Lieberman deliver a better speech?

Rather than running away with the first night, he became the RNC's equivalent of Claire MacCaskill -- the politician on Night One who was tapped (and then failed) to convince swing voters that the  party's candidate really does represent all of America, not just one gender or one party.

For these reasons, it was easy to wonder why the party didn't make more of George Pataki after he spoke on Wednesday afternoon at a lunch for the New York Delegation of the Republican Party.

In a fiery speech for McCain, the former governor of New York talked about the importance of reaching across party lines, then lampooned the Democrats at every opportunity.

"Barack Obama talks about change we can believe in, then as his vice president, he goes and picks this Beltway Joe who's been in Washington for a couple hundred years and never met an earmark he didn't like."

If you were a Democrat, it probably made your skin crawl, but it was still a well placed insult.

Also on Pataki's agenda: He talked of the need for looser policies on energy. ("It is ridiculous we sent billions of dollars to lunatics like Ahmadinejad and Chavez because the Democrats won't let us drill here," he said.)

He spoke of Sarah Palin's success reforming her state, and in a question and answer session with reporters afterward, brushed off a question of her inexperience by saying that at least the Republican Party picked its less experienced candidate for the number two slot. ("When you compare our VP to their presidential candidate, I'll take our governor over their senator any day.")

And then there was what some took to be an insult towards Eliot Spitzer, Pataki's fallen successor in the governor's mansion. ("For the last year and a half," he said in his speech, "you probably haven't seen a lot of me, and I'll tell you why. I didn't want to second guess those who went into office after me. I wanted to let them do their jobs. Well, I'm back.")

But Pataki said afterwards that he wasn't aiming at his successor. Because -- bud um bum!-- why bother?

"I didn't need to," he shrugged. "Other people already have."

Then he pooh-poohed a question from another reporter whether it was strange to be speaking to a room full of people, of whom many have a long history of animosity toward Pataki. (For those without a degree in state politics, Pataki spent much of his last term in a war with local Republicans, among them Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who actually introduced him Wednesday.)

"I think you got the answer to that when you looked out at the crowd," Pataki said.
Which was perhaps cocky, but true. The applause at the end of his speech was deafening.

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