2012 Contender Series: Tim Pawlenty
(Ed. note: Pawlenty officially withdrew from the Republican Presidential race on Sunday, August 14th after a poor showing in the Iowa Straw Poll)
This issue of the Contender series will be a little different from past installments. It will concentrate on impressions and reactions. I confess, I will be unabashedly partisan. I have lived with this man as Governor of my state. I want others in the nation to understand what is being presented to them.
The basic facts about Tim Pawlenty are pretty straightforward.
Born in 1960 in St. Paul, he played ice hockey on his high school’s junior varsity squad. He went to law school at the University of Minnesota, and was a vice-president at a software company. He was appointed to the Eagan City Planning Commission in 1988, and served a term on the Eagan City Council. He then served in the Minnesota State House of Representatives starting in 1992. He fixed his sights on the U.S. Senate, but stepped aside when then-Vice President Dick Cheney made it clear Norm Coleman was the Republican Party’s preferred candidate. Instead, Pawlenty ran for Governor, and was narrowly elected with 44.4% of the vote in a closely-contested three-way race in 2002. He was re-elected in 2006 with 46% of the vote in another three-way race.
There were rumors that John McCain might select Pawlenty as a Vice Presidential candidate in 2008. Here in Minnesota, there were later unsubstantiated rumors that he was bitter about being passed over for Sarah Palin.
This past Monday, Pawlenty formally announced his decision to form a presidential exploratory committee. He made the announcement through a video posted to his Facebook page. (By the way, most of the pictures of minorities in that ad are stock footage from Getty Images.)
This follows hot on the heels of a superhero-like video ad for his book, “Courage to Stand: An American Story.” He’s been visiting most of the states in the nation, being coy about whether he would run for President.
His announcement certainly doesn’t surprise any of us in Minnesota. He was mostly absent from the state during the last two years of his second term as Governor, stopping by only to say he would not raise taxes to balance our looming $6.2 billion budget deficit. His suggested solution was to cut education, medical care, government employees, money for state parks, and various support programs for the state’s most needy citizens.
Minnesota is not known for conservative governance. Pawlenty was initially seen here as a “Minnesota Republican”—a moderate, someone the rest of the Party might well see as a RINO. But he earned his bones by refusing to raise income taxes during his two terms, preferring instead to increase various user fees, license fees, and, most notably, tobacco taxes—various regressive sources of income that hit harder at people of lower incomes.
In 2010, in an effort to balance the Minnesota budget, he refused to negotiate with the then-Democratic-dominated state legislature. Instead, after the budget had been passed, he unilaterally “unalloted” programs of which he disapproved, including a $5.3 million special dietary program for Minnesota’s poor. Minnesota’s Constitution does allow the Governor to make emergency cuts of this sort; but there was no emergency here, and Democrats took the case to court. The State Supreme Court eventually ruled against Pawlenty, and most of his cuts were reinstated.
We in Minnesota have witnessed Pawlenty’s transition from a moderate “Minnesota Republican” to a far-right-pandering Tea Party activist. He expressed support for TARP in 2008, but later (in 2010) retracted that support. He appeared in a commercial supporting cap-and-trade, but later said Cap and Trade would be a “disaster.”
I’ve seen T-Paw in person, in a fairly intimate setting when he visited one of my former employers back in 2007. He struck me as personable, but uninspiring, tall, gangly, with huge hands, handsome and photogenic, but a bit clumsy. Not a powerful speaker, but able to talk in complete sentences.
He is likely to stress his opposition to taxes, and his new-found agreement with all things Teaper. His former moderate image, and former support for such Minnesota values as environmental protection, may haunt him. But he is likely to portray his conversion as a matter of being a born-again ultraconservative. His main negative may be that he isn’t very exciting; he seems too polite and well-mannered, too “Minnesota nice,” for the current Republican environment. He will also inspire a lot of opposition from those of us who’ve had to live under his rule as Governor. Pawlenty will have to overcome his outwardly-gentle demeanor to play well with the modern Republican base. He will likely try to stress his ability to be elected in a blue state, but that may not impress Republican diehards who might suspect he got votes by being too soft.
Can he win the nomination? On January 22, the New Hampshire Straw Poll put him in a weak third place, with 8%, behind Romney’s 35% and Ron Paul’s 11%, though he beat Palin, Bachmann, Santorum, and Gingrich.
And if he could get the nomination, could he win the general election? In late February, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Pawlenty losing to Obama 50% to 31%. It’s possible, however, that it’s all about the lack of notoriety; 61% of those polled didn’t even know who he was. (At the recent Gridiron Dinner, President Obama joked of Pawlenty, “I think the American people are going to have some tough questions for Tim. Specifically, ‘Who are you and where do you come from?’ Which is OK. Two years into my presidency and I’m still getting those questions.”) Nonetheless, given the narrow national support for Tea Party candidates, Pawlenty’s attempts at Tea Cred are not likely to improve his chances from this poll’s numbers.
In short, he looks like a long shot for the nomination, and an even longer shot for the White House.
- Tim Pawlenty’s announcement | Michael Tomasky (guardian.co.uk)
- Tim Pawlenty Facebook Announcement Expected To Address Formation Of Exploratory Committee (huffingtonpost.com)
- T-Paw enters the fray (economist.com)
- Tim Pawlenty, action movie hero, would like your attention (salon.com)
- Little-known Pawlenty launches 2012 GOP presidential bid – Boston Globe (news.google.com)