Before Senator John McCain had a chance of becoming the Republican Party’s 2008 Presidential nominee, Minnesota’s Governor Tim Pawlenty offered him loyal support and became one of his most vocal campaign volunteers. When the contest seemed to be a horserace between McCain, Romney, and Huckabee, speculations about Tim Pawlenty’s chances to change addresses quieted, though he continued to travel on behalf of the unpopular McCain. Now, since McCain has all but become the GOP’s Presidential nominee, Pawlenty’s name is coming up again. He showed in a surprisingly tough State of the State speech last week, why he should still be on the short list as a Vice Presidential pick.
As national co-chair of McCain’s campaign, Pawlenty has traveled for at least a year on behalf of his friend to attend rallies, fundraisers, and conferences in key states from Iowa and New Hampshire to Michigan and Florida. In as early as 2006, people began to speculate about a McCain/Pawlenty ticket and despite whispers of approval and calculations that a more conservative governor from the midwest could help the moderate senator. He could carry key swing states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Pawlenty always denies he’s discussed the vice presidential nomination with McCain.
A recent Star Tribune article described the buzz: “…few observers who understand the strategy of running-mate choices dismiss Pawlenty’s chances altogether, and a list of veep contenders can hardly be found within the beltway or across the blogosphere that doesn’t include the Minnesota governor’s name somewhere in the mix.” In many ways, Pawlenty would be a good, though perhaps not an obvious choice.
Perceived to be McCain’s opposite, Pawlenty possesses many traits that could balance the older, moderate Republican. With boyish good looks and palatable charisma, Pawlenty speaks in a polished, yet ‘Minnesota Nice,’ tone. Politically, Pawlenty appears to be more conservative than McCain (though Minnesota conservatives might disagree) and this attribute especially could sway some of the conservatives who are hesitant to vote for McCain this year.
Barry Casselman, a Minneapolis-based, nationally syndicated columnist for the Washington Times and RealClearPolitics, believes though Pawlenty has never said he’s interested in the job, he’s communicated it in other ways. “Pawlenty’s friends are all working behind the scenes — quietly — to put him in the best possible light, should he be chosen. There’s no question, he’s made no statement indicating he’s interested, but everything else he’s doing is indicating he’s interested.”
Casselman, too, thinks Pawlenty could contribute great talent to the ticket, but points out that Pawlenty does have some negatives. “He’s a first-rate communicator, but he’s never shown himself to be an attack dog. So the question could be, what kind of attack dog could he be in a Presidential election?” Attack dog or not, despite Pawlenty’s qualifications and the potential for an advantageous political match, some critics — especially local blogs — dismiss Pawlenty as a good VP choice because he’s too liberal and he failed to deliver his own state to McCain (the straw poll went to Romney).
One of the most popular national bloggers (based in Minnesota) Ed Morrissey, of Captains Quarters blogged last Sunday,“Pawlenty could be what the GOP needs — a young two-term governor with no peccadilloes and a strong record of at least center-right governance, if not outright conservative achievements.”
Still, many believe McCain would be better off with someone from the South, like Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina, or Mississippi’s Governor, Haley Barbour. As if on cue, or in response to the rumors, Governor Pawlenty gave an unusually hard-hitting (on taxes) State of the State address last week. It might move him to the top of the VP short list.
The Democrat-controlled Minnesota state legislature has proposed a transportation bill to be funded in part by an increase in the gas tax. In a crowded auditorium in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Pawlenty pulled a red pen from his pocket and, in response to their new bill, said he wouldn’t hesitate to use his “taxpayer protection pen,” to “restrain taxes and spending.”
Pawlenty’s past relationship with McCain notwithstanding, his sudden political bravado combined with McCain’s pending nomination offers solid proof that perhaps he’d rather let his Lt. Governor fend for herself among the near-veto-proof majority in the state legislature, and accompany his favorite maverick to the White House. Some think McCain could wait and make his announcement for VP at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Since the spotlight will already be on his home state, this may be beneficial for Pawlenty, but it may not be for any other VP as such a late announcement provides him with little time to shore up support for McCain in states in which he has influence.
Though Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa together number more than the amount of delegates in Ohio, is the promise of the Midwest swing states enough to make McCain choose his loyal friend? Or, would McCain rather try to secure the Southern states and acquire the help of the increasingly popular Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist?
If McCain chooses Pawlenty, some Minnesotans will feel willing — and proud — to offer their governor as the next possible Vice President of the United States. Others will be disappointed at his close association with such a liberal “conservative.” One thing is sure, if he is not chosen, Pawlenty’s State of the State address will not have been a waste of breath. Minnesota Democrats will still have to deal with him and his veto pen during this session. If he is, we can all say, ‘we knew him when.’