Friday, June 20, 2008

Pawlenty: The Good and Bad

As John McCain looks to potential Vice Presidential picks, the Fix makes the case for and against Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
No potential vice presidential pick - with the exception of Hillary Rodham Clinton - has received as much attention over the last few months as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty is widely assumed to be favorite pick of presumptive GOP nominee John McCain and has held down the top spot in The Fix's Veepstakes Line since we began ranking the potential choices. It is only likely to get worse (or, if you're Pawlenty, better) over the next 24 hours as McCain's trip to Minnesota is sure to stoke the rumor mill. While conventional wisdom seems to have hardened around the "Pawlenty as frontrunner" meme, the truth of the matter is that few in the chattering class have any real sense of the man - where he comes from, what he stands for and why he has vaulted into such an exalted position in the Veepstakes.
The Case for Tim Pawlenty:
Up From His Bootstraps: In a party long seen as controlled by affluent elites, Pawlenty's decidedly blue collar background puts an entirely different face on what it means to be a Republican. Pawlenty grew up in the working class environs of South St. Paul. He was a teenager when he lost his mother. His father was a truck driver. He was the first member of his family to graduate from college. He still plays ice hockey whenever he can. He caught a 17" walleye on opening day of fishing season this spring. His most oft-quoted line by the national press is his vow to make the GOP the party of "Sam's Club not just the country club."

The Good Soldier: Pawlenty is nothing if not loyal to his party. In 1998, Pawlenty was running for governor but stepped aside in favor of then-St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman (R) who was regarded as the party's best chance of taking back the post. Three years later, Pawlenty was actively weighing a race against Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) when Vice President Dick Cheney and White House political Svengali Karl Rove called to urge him to step aside in favor of - you guessed it - Coleman. He did, and decided instead to run for governor - a three-way race he won by eight points. (Pawlenty was reelected by a far more narrow margin in 2006, besting Attorney General Mike Hatch 47 percent to 46 percent.) For some, Pawlenty's willingness to repeatedly step aside at the behest of the party powers-that-be could be taken as a sign of weakness -- a willingness to play second fiddle that runs counter to the sort of profile a national politician needs.

Bridging the Evangelical Gap: Pawlenty could well provide a solution to the gap between McCain and evangelical voters without alienating moderates and independents. (Huckabee would almost surely help McCain bridge the evangelical gap too but lacks the appeal to the ideological middle.) Vin Weber, a former Republican member of Congress from Minnesota and now a major player in Washington GOP politics, explains that while Pawlenty has close ties to the evangelical community in his state and nationally but is "not a guy who wears [religion] on his sleeve."

Free of the Taint: Voters feel passionately that Washington is broken and new faces are needed to fix it… Pawlenty certainly fits this description, having spent his entire political career in his home state.Pawlenty also has demonstrated during his time as governor a penchant for the sort of hands-on, nitty gritty approach to solving problems that tends to resonate with average voters. An example: Pawlenty not only declared a state of emergency in a handful of southeastern Minnesota counties ravaged by recent floods but quickly toured the areas to see the damage first hand. Voters like doers, not talkers. And judging from his reaction to the recent flooding as well as the 2007 collapse of the I-35 bridge, Pawlenty intuitively understands that the best way to handle crises is to put yourself in the middle of them.
The Case Against Tim Pawlenty:
Tim Who?: Pawlenty is virtually unknown on the national stage despite being in his second term as governor of a swing state. He has done little to raise his profile nationally since coming into office - although he has been seeking to remedy that of late by traveling the country in support of Republican downballot candidates.

Political Operation Incognito: For a guy who has spent six years in the governor's office and was a leader in the state House before winning that post in 2002, Pawlenty has an almost non-existent political operation either in the state or nationally. Even allies describe Pawlenty as generally apolitical and not someone who has spent much time building a national network of donors or hiring on national operatives to position him for a run at the ticket.

A Man Without an (Ideological) Home: In our case for Pawlenty yesterday, we noted that he has stronger ties to the evangelical community than many people assume. But, he is not generally regarded by social conservatives as "one of them." ...Even so, Pawlenty may well be a man without a country when it comes to the veepstakes. He is unlikely to be pushed to McCain's advisers by either social or fiscal conservatives - the two broadest and most powerful elements within the party. That also means that if Pawlenty is picked by McCain, he will make neither of those constituent groups happy.

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