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McCain VEEPwatch: Who Is Tim Pawlenty?

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Is Tim Pawlenty another unworthy subject of Internet hysteria and hometown fanaticism… Or does he have the proven track record and the charisma it takes to be John McCain’s #2?

Congressional Credentials:

  • Governor of Minnesota (2003 – Present)
  • Chair of the National Governors Association (2007)
  • Former Chair of the Governors Ethanol Coalition (2007)
  • Former Chair of the Midwestern Governors Association (2006)
  • House Majority Leader (1999)
  • Minnesota House of Representatives (1992-2002)
  • Eagan City Councilmember (1989-1992)

He also serves on the National Infrastructure Advisory Council, the Achieve Inc. Board of Directors, and the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute Board of Directors.

Background:
Pawlenty, the youngest of five children, grew up in South St. Paul, Minnesota. His father was a truck driver, his mother a homemaker (who died when Tim was just 16). Tim went to school with the intention of becoming a dentist, but switched to political science after a particularly grueling chemistry class. He became the first member of his family to graduate from college, obtaining his BA in political science from the University of Minnesota and his

Pawlenty and his wife Mary have two daughters, Anna and Mara. They live in Eagan, Minnesota and attend the Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie.

His Agenda:
The bulk of his legislation centers around cutting taxes, creating longer prison sentences for repeat offenders / violent criminals, building more roads, spurring job creation, reforming education and creating new energy initiatives.

Foreign Policy Cred:
None. (But with McCain running, does he really need it?)

Domestic Policy Cred:
As Governor, T-Paw took a $4.5 billion budget deficit (the largest in state history) and balanced the budget in his first term, without raising taxes (unless you consider the “cigarette fees“). He reportedly cut government spending by over $2 billion.

The Minnesota Governor’s website further credits him with: overhauling education standards, increasing K-12 spending, pushing health care reforms that led to a 0% premium increase in the state insurance program, reforming welfare, creating a prescription drug website and doubling the state’s ethanol standard to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Star Achievements:
Well, Minnesota IS historically a Democratic state, so winning two terms is no small feat!

He’s been called “the most Conservative MN Governor since the 1920s

Other accomplishments in 2003: a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, a conceal weapons law, repeal of the state’s Profiles of Learning standards, establishment of tax-exempt zones in distressed rural areas, a bill requiring recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

Possible Snafus:

The Fishing/Sex Gaffe:
Governor Pawlenty’s taken a lot of heat from his off-the-cuff remark during a local radio interview, where he said: “I have a wife who genuinely loves to fish. I mean, she will take the lead and ask me to go out fishing, and joyfully comes here. She loves football, she’ll go to hockey games and, I jokingly say, ‘Now, if I could only get her to have sex with me.’” (I say, “So What?” But, you know, it’s not exactly a brilliant move if you’re trying to aspire to the 2nd highest office in the land.)

Liberals are quick to attack:
In case you were ever wondering, “Well, why wouldn’t someone like this affable governor?” You can find a host of detractors in the comments sections of newspaper articles and on sites like PawlentyUnplugged.com, where someone went ballistic with the old “flip-flop” cliché from the Kerry/Bush election season. The complaints are multitudinous, but essentially revolve around: the 2003 increase in the students’ share of college tuition costs, how he changed his mind on the GLBT community, the Minnesota bridge collapse (which some argue was negligence), the 2005 government shutdown (caused by a deadlock between his office and legislature on the state budget, affecting transportation, state parks and the tourism industry) – and basically the fact that he’s a Republican in a blue state.

Conservatives are also miffed:
Some say it was a rookie mistake for Pawlenty to expand rights to the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender community as state legislator. Governors Haley Barbour (MS), Mitch Daniels (IN) and Mark Sanford (SC) are unhappy about Pawlenty’s collaboration with Democrat Ed Rendell favoring the NGA-sponsored addition of $6 billion in federal Medicaid funding and $6 billion in flexible block grants to Bush’s economic stimulus package. Pawlenty’s energy proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was shot down immediately. Some Conservatives are made about the 75-cents-per-pack “fee” on cigarettes, which they say still constitutes as “raising taxes.”   

Pawlenty’s failed measures include:
a few education initiatives, a bill for stricter penalties on sexual predators, a stadium bill, and a $740 million bonding bill – all instances where he couldn’t quite overcome the partisan divide.

He’s charming, but not all that popular:
In 2006, Pawlenty beat his opponent Mike Hatch by a small margin of 47%-46%. Additionally, a SurveyUSA poll says that 52% of Minnesotans approve of the job Pawlenty’s doing, while 46% disapprove and 2% are unsure. When you get down to brass tacks, Pawlenty may not be able to carry Minnesota for McCain – and his national profile isn’t the caliber of a Romney or a Huckabee.

VicePresidents.com Assessment:
I confess: I think T-Paw is totally cool. I’m not just saying that because he’s a blue collar rock music fan with a penchant for CCR and Bruce Springsteen, who likes “normal guy” things like fishing, reading, hockey and running, and who will sit down to have a couple beers with the locals… although, that helps him in a Huckabee sort of way.

The videos on Pawlenty speak for themselves – he comes off likable, articulate, confident and good-hearted. The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber aptly said the governor “beamed like a scoutmaster awarding merit badges.” As RedState.com reminds us, “Ideas don’t run for president, people do,” and in that regard Pawlenty has a presence that young people, Independents, Populist Conservatives, Suburbanites, women and Mavericks can appreciate.

Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman affirms that Pawlenty is “a really decent person” who is well-liked by almost everyone who truly knows him. Coleman adds, “One of the key characteristics for a vice presidential candidate is for the president to be able to campaign and not worry about the vice president. Tim Pawlenty is as solid as you can get on a personal level, on a life-story level, on a confidence level.”

I like that T-Paw has a totally Cheney sense of humor:

And I think he’s been doing everything “right” to increase his GOP name recognition. In recent weeks, Pawlenty has traveled to North Carolina fundraisers to raise money for Robin Hayes and Patrick McHenry. He gave the keynote speech at a Republican Governors Association event in Atlanta, discussing how CEOs can “pursue environmentally responsible ways to grow business.” He’ll also be headlining the 30th annual Prescott Bush Awards Dinner in Connecticut, which never fails to attract Republican heavyweights. He’s made quite a few appearances with McCain as well, which is increasing his star power tenfold.

Can he woo evangelicals and conservatives? Who knows for sure? He regularly attends an Evangelical Church and he was married by Leith Anderson, a senior pastor at Wooddale (who’s also the president of the National Association of Evangelicals). While he’s not the most Conservative guy in the nation, he’s Conservative for Minnesota… and he does have the blessings of Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman and Vin Weber. In recent weeks, Pawlenty’s made steps to impress his Conservative buddies by signing conceal-and-carry legislation into law and continually vetoing Democratic bills.

Lastly, despite Pawlenty’s adamant reminders that he’s “just here to help Senator McCain become the next president,” it seems that the Minnesota Governor has been bolstering his defenses and practicing his barbed attacks. RedState.com writer Dan McLaughlin feared Pawlenty is just too nice and that he could be “Quayle-ized by the media.”

However, Pawlenty attacked Obama on ABC News, saying: “[Obama] seems to have a lack of appreciation or understanding of many of the values of this country. He’s not only out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party, but out of the mainstream of the country as a whole.” He also added, “He would benefit from joining Senator McCain on a trip to Iraq. I think the more times you’ve been to Iraq, the better.” He’s been a loyal supporter of McCain from the very beginning, which is what any presidential nominee would want from a sidekick.

All things considered, I like Pawlenty and think he could bring an exciting vigor to the “Dinosaur” McCain campaign. If you’re looking at “ticket branding,” Pawlenty’s a good choice. If you’re trying to find a Republican candidate who could please everyone, GOOD LUCK! Personally, I love the honorable Colin Powell (though he’d never run) – but there are Republican Conservatives who could still find reasons to naysay. At the end of the day, CAN Tim Pawlenty check on the status of McCain’s health, attend funerals and sign Christmas cards? Sure. If he ascends to the presidency, DOES he have governing experience and what it takes to be a more popular president than Bush? Of course. T-Paw’s sort of a mixed bag, but I think there’s some merit to shortlisting him.

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