The Republican field of presidential candidates in 2016 just keeps getting bigger.

On Wednesday, former senator of Pennsylvania Rick Santorum announced his plans to enter the race, and on Thursday former three-term governor of New York, George Pataki, threw his hat in the ring. They join 11 other candidates who have said they'll run in a race that could grow to include as many as 20 candidates, by some estimates.

Pataki, who served as the chief executive of the Empire State from 1994 to 2006, declared his intentions to run at an event in New Hampshire. Santorum, who also ran for president in 2012, took a slightly more modern approach by tweeting his intentions following a speech at a Pennsylvania manufacturing plant:

The two candidates represent opposite ends of a rather narrow spectrum on social and economic issues for Republicans, with Pataki occupying the moderate camp and Santorum the far right. Where small business is concerned, the latest candidates offer much that is standard Republican fare, including agendas that favor tax and budget cuts. But the two differ widely in other areas that affect small business owners, such as their attitudes toward unions and immigration.

"Santorum is very similar to [former Arkansas governor] Mike Huckabee: he is very far to the right on social issues, and more moderate on fiscal issues," says Stan Veuger, a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. "Pataki seems like a responsible fiscal conservative who's more worried about deficits than the other guys."

Pataki has the unique distinction of winning three gubernatorial elections in a predominately Democratic state, which gives him bona fides as a moderate. He's also likely to take credit for New York's economic strength during his tenure, political experts say. During Pataki's 12 years in office, he presided over the state's economic boom in the late 1990s, and following the Dotcom busts and September 11 terror attacks, he guided the state through recessions that affected the entire nation.

In contrast to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, another likely contender for the presidency, Pataki has shown himself to be a supporter of unions, as well as of immigration reform. And unlike social conservatives running in the Republican primary, such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Pataki has supported gay rights, abortion rights, and stronger gun control laws.

While in office, Pataki ushered through substantial tax cuts that reduced the top income tax rate by 20 percent, while substantially reducing the state's income from business taxes.

Yet by his own admission, Pataki says he is a long-shot in the current race. And some political experts, noting that Pataki has been out of office and the public eye for nearly a decade, are somewhat puzzled by his reappearance on the political stage.

"Pataki will be sitting at the kids' table," says Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy and co-founder of Third Way, a centrist policy think tank in Washington, D.C.

For his part, Santorum is attempting to define himself as an economic populist. In his speech Wednesday, he sounded a familiar anti-big government note that took aim at pending trade deals such as the Transpacific Partnership.

"We can't sit idly by as big government politicians make it harder for our workers and then turn around and blame them for losing jobs overseas," Santorum said, according to CNN. "American families don't need another president tied to big government or big money."

Santorum, who said during the 2012 election cycle he would cut the corporate tax rate to 17.5 percent from 39 percent, typically casts himself in a blue collar mold, advocating for bringing back manufacturing jobs that existed a generation ago.

On his webpage, Santorum says he favors instating a flat tax and eliminating the Internal Revenue Service, which are standard offers from politicians appealing to Tea Party voters. Ted Cruz, for example, has said he'd eliminate the IRS along with the Federal Reserve. Santorum has also voiced opposition to favorable immigration policies that, in his words, take jobs from U.S workers.

Santorum's social conservatism, which includes a staunch opposition to gay rights and abortion rights, struck a chord with many conservative voters during his 2012 presidential run. He won 11 primaries and came in second that year, but ultimately dropped out in the face of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's better fundraising and stronger polling.

Yet some political observers wonder whether Santorum's message will hold water today.

"Santorum is a social conservative at a time when that has become less in vogue, even among Republican voters," Kessler says. "He seems like yesterday's news."

Published on: May 28, 2015