February 17, 2008

Pawlenty As Veep?

For over a year, Tim Pawlenty has supported John McCain through thick and a whole lot of thin. The two-term Minnesota governor became one of John McCain's first major endorsers in January 2007, and even at the time speculation began that Pawlenty could make a good running mate for McCain. Jonathan Martin at Politico has heard louder rumblings of consideration among the GOP base for Pawlenty, who could make a good presidential candidate anytime in the next twenty years:

Even through the McCain campaign’s darkest days in 2007, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty remained a steadfast ally to the Arizona senator in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

As a result, with John McCain as the clear GOP frontrunner and insider talk turning to speculation about his possible running mate, party insiders are now buzzing about the 47-year-old, second-term governor’s vice-presidential prospects.

Vin Weber, a Minnesota congressman-turned-Washington-lobbyist who is one of Pawlenty’s biggest boosters, ticks off the list of appealing traits.

“First of all, his age is attractive,” Weber says, hinting at the nearly quarter-century difference between his fellow Minnesotan and the 71-year-old McCain. “Second, he’s from outside Washington. Third, he represents a battleground part of the country. And he has a nice balance of, on one hand being totally acceptable to conservative wing of the party, especially to social conservatives, but at the same time sharing a couple of key maverick strains of thought with McCain.”

McCain has emphasized several times over the last couple of weeks that he hasn't begun to think about a running mate. He told George Stephanopolous today on ABC's This Week that it would be presumptive to start that process without actually having clinched the nomination:

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about on the vice presidency?

MCCAIN: We're getting ahead of ourselves.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you feel a need -- not that far ahead -- do you feel a need to pick someone who conservatives say right off the bat, "He or she is one of us"?

MCCAIN: Well, I hope that I could nominate someone that all of our party -- I mean, we have a lot of our party that all of our party would feel comfortable with. And that's a process that, again, you've seen before, where we begin a process of looking at the various people.

But, again, I am a little bit superstitious in that I really want to make sure that we have the nomination before I started that process.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you've done nothing on that?

MCCAIN: No, nothing.

Given what McCain had to do to raise his candidacy from "mostly dead" status, it's entirely believable that he hasn't focused at all on his running mate. However, he will soon need to start. Especially with the enthusiasm and credibility gap that McCain has with the base, he needs someone who can reassure Republicans that he will govern conservatively and also provide the GOP with a credible national candidate for 2012 or 2016.

Pawlenty has some advantages for McCain. Geographically, he could help put Minnesota and Wisconsin in play, and perhaps firm up Iowa as well. If the GOP takes both Minnesota and Wisconsin from the Democrats, McCain could make up for a Pennsylvania or a couple of smaller states that could shift to the Democrats, especially if Obama runs. It could strengthen the GOP lock in the Midwest as well.

Politically, Pawlenty comes across as a homey, nice-guy politician -- but he has real talent for infighting. Pawlenty handled the bridge collapse without a hint of panic, a contrast to the Chicken Little hysterics who immediately blamed a lack of maintenance and opposition to tax increases for the tragedy. The eventual cause -- a design defect amplified by actual maintenance on the bridge -- vindicated Pawlenty, as did polling which showed a clear majority of Minnesotans opposed to increased taxes. He has managed a state legislature dominated by his opponents expertly, showing his toughness under fire a number of times.

Pawlenty may not pass muster at a CPAC as a clear-cut conservative. Pawlenty shares McCain's enthusiasm for global-warming initiatives, although both prefer free-market solutions to government-imposed energy management. His political situation in Minnesota has forced him into a few compromises on spending and taxes, including a renege on a no-tax pledge and an increase in cigarette "fees" that angered the tax hawks here in Minnesota.

Overall, however, 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. He and Mark Sanford of South Carolina would probably be the two best candidates for running mates on the GOP bench. Even if a McCain/Pawlenty ticket didn't manage to win in 2008, Pawlenty would be well-positioned afterward for a run at Amy Klobuchar's Senate seat in 2012, or perhaps a shot at the top of the ticket in that year or in 2016.


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