Gizzi on Politics: July 14-18

Pawlenty Takes Connecticut 
Stamford, Conn.—A year ago, Fred Thompson got tremendous build-up as the guest speaker at the Prescott Bush Awards dinner of the Connecticut Republican Party and then got so-so reviews for his actual remarks. On June 27, the verdict at the annual party dinner (which is named for the President’s grandfather, who was U.S. senator from Connecticut from 1952-62) was almost unanimous: After getting relatively little advance build-up in the press, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty took Nutmeg State GOPers by storm. 

With more than 500 guests packed into the ballroom of the Stamford Sheraton—and more than $200,000 raised for party coffers—the two-term governor of the Gopher State hit a home run with an address spiced with quotes from Martin Luther King, Will Rogers, and Tom (The World Is Flat) Friedman. 

As Pawlenty posed for pictures with Nutmeg State Republicans at a private reception there was much murmured speculation about the governor as John McCain’s running mate. 

Then, Rep. Chris Shays (R.-Conn.) in his remarks preceding Pawlenty’s speech, said what was on so many people’s minds: “Our speaker tonight is on the shortest of short lists to be the next Vice President,” prompting wild cheers from the audience. Even McCain himself got into the act: 

In remarks filmed for the Bush event, the soon-to-be presidential nominee hailed Pawlenty as “a rising star” in the Republican Party and noted how the governor was with him from the beginning as “a national co-chairman of my campaign.” 

Shays, one of the least conservative Republicans in the House (see following story) left little doubt he would not mind running for relection on a ticket headed by McCain and the conservative Minnesotan. 

More conservative Connecticut GOPers seconded Shays’ view. GOP Chairman Chris Healy told me: “Look, a lot of our people want Mitt Romney as the running mate and feel he would energize a good number of economic conservatives. Personally, I would love to see McCain do something magical and pick [former Oklahoma Rep.] J.C. Watts. But Tim Pawlenty is also impressive. Anyone who can win the governorship twice in a state that last went Republican for President in 1972 and can work with that legislature to cut taxes is impressive. He can talk to the great middle.” 

So what does Pawlenty think of all this talk? 

“I’m honored to be able to serve John McCain in the campaign,” Pawlenty told me. “He’s a great leader who would make a great President. I’m also happy with my day job.” 
Does he talk to McCain regularly? Pawlenty replied that he was with the candidate at a series of events in Minnesota and “we keep in touch.” 

A New Look at Shays

It is no secret that although there are many moderate and liberal Republicans who are major donors to the Republican Party in Connecticut, there are also many conservatives who write big checks and attend events such as the Bush dinner. 

So that’s why it was a bit of a surprise to find Chris Shays, one of the least conservative Republicans in Congress (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 46%) and the only Republican House member from the Nutmeg State, drawing a prolonged almost unanimous standing ovation when he addressed the banquet. 

“Chris Shays is with the President and John McCain on Iraq,” declared State Party Chairman Healy as he introduced the ten-term lawmaker from Fairfield County. That pretty much says it: While Shays has infuriated conservatives on issues ranging from oil drilling in the Alaskan Natural Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) to the Clinton impeachment (he was against both), he now irks liberals on the issue of the war. One Shays campaign operative told me that the congressman and his Democratic opponent “agree on nearly everything except Iraq, but 33% of the Democrat’s donations are from contributors to [anti-war Democrat] Ned Lamont’s campaign against [Sen.] Joe Lieberman two years ago.” (Running almost exclusively as an opponent of Lieberman’s pro-Iraq stance, Lamont beat the senator in the Democratic primary, but Lieberman went on to win re-election in November as an independent.) 

Another area in which Shays broke with his natural liberal allies is the partial-birth abortion ban. In both a conversation at the Bush dinner and an earlier e-mail exchange with me, the 4th District congressman noted that, in an item I had written about his vying for the ranking minority slot on the House Government Reform Committee, I had referred to him as one of the handful of Republican House members who had opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion. 

“I voted against the ban back in 1996,” recalled Shays, “believing this procedure was rare and used mostly in cases where it was necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, to prevent severe consequences to her health, or when severe genetic deformities exist. 

“After voting, I learned this procedure was not as uncommon as I was told; rather than a few hundred partial-birth abortions each year, there have been thousands. Now, choice advocates acknowledge this procedure is often used for elective abortions of healthy fetuses. For this reason, I have supported the ban since 1997.” On Oct. 2, 2003, Shays voted for the conference report that banned partial-birth abortions. It passed the House by a vote of 281-142 and President Bush signed the measure on November 5 of that year. 
Shays also let me know he had spoken “with doctors, both pro-choice and pro-life, who made it very clear to me that the partial-birth abortion procedure is never medically necessary.” 

According to Shays spokesman Dave Natonski, although the congressman still considers himself pro-choice and believes Roe v. Wade should stand, he has never received any support from the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) since changing his position on partial-birth abortion.