Pataki, the last Republican to win statewide, talks about ‘connection’ at a Wendy Long event

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Long and Pataki. (Reid Pillifant)
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"Where's the applause? What's going on?" George Pataki asked a small group of reporters in a downstairs conference room of the Sheraton this morning, after being introduced by Republican chairman Ed Cox.

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding, it's only me," Pataki said, to some laughs and scattered applause.

The former governor, who is the last New York Republican to win a statewide election, had made the trip down to the city to endorse Wendy Long, the Republican Senate candidate running against Kirsten Gillibrand.

Long is still struggling to boost her name recognition for the race, and the event was a rare Manhattan appearance, after Long won the Republican primary last month mostly by courting conservative upstate voters. 

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Cox introduced Pataki as someone who could speak to the impact of Al D'Amato, the state's last Republican senator, and the benefits of having a senator in the majority, which Cox predicted would be a Republican one come January.

But Pataki didn't mention D'Amato and mostly focused on the problems in the current Senate.

"[Long] understands the need to have a United State senator from the great state of New York who reflects and represents the views and opinions of the people of New York and not those of Harry Reid," he said.

Long, who employs two longtime associates of Pataki, David Catalfamo and Rob Ryan, cited Pataki as an inspiration for his work cutting the deficit and reducing the welfare rolls.

Asked why Republicans have had such a difficult time winning statewide races in the past decade, Pataki said the electorate hadn't changed and that the challenge for Republicans like Long was to connect the problems in Washington to New York State.

"It's one thing to talk about Washington, it's important to relate that to a family in Washington Heights or the Bronx or Peekskill," he said. "Without changing our principles one bit, if we can make that connection to the families of this state, who are worried about their jobs, worried about the deficits, worried about their children's future, then we can, no question about it."

For Long, part of the challenge is getting the message out on a meager budget. She said it was disingenous for Gillibrand, who has stockpiled nearly $10 million for the race, to suggest she might be outspent in fund-raising emails.

“I don’t know why she’s saying that, she’s obviously trying to raise more money,” Long said. “It’s her scare tactics, just like her phony ‘war on women’ scare tactics. I think she uses these things to get people worked up and try and get more campaign money.”

Among the handful of reporters were two cameras from NY1, including Juan Manuel Benitez who pressed Long on her views on the delayed action for young immigrants, and whether she still opposes Bronx-born Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Long would say only that she thinks securing the border is the first priority; she was more forthcoming about the Sotomayor.

"I think that she is someone who had a record of judicial activism and I think that has shown to be true also on the Supreme Court," she said.

Asked to sum up the difference between she and Gillibrand, Long said, "I'm for freedom and opportunity, she's for big oppressive government."

Polls show Gillibrand leading Long by a more than 2-1 margin.