Tim Pawlenty is getting some major props from some Washington D.C. pundits. The chattering class, which includes the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and columnist George Will, say Pawlenty is becoming a candidate who can secure the GOP nomination.
Cillizza, who write The Fix, ranks Pawlenty as the second most likely candidate to win the GOP nomination (behind Mitt Romney):
2. Tim Pawlenty: The former Minnesota governor is starting to win people — including the Fix — over. He is diligently working at building organizations in Iowa and New Hampshire and there are some signs that those efforts are paying off as he placed a solid third in a January straw poll in the Granite State. The biggest knock on Pawlenty is that he’s too nice and/or not charismatic enough to win the nomination. But, Pawlenty is improving — his 2011 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference was far better than the 2010 edition — and, given the flaws in the field, being too nice isn’t all that bad. As a result, Pawlenty is the name you hear on more and more lips when asking neutral Republicans who they think their nominee might be. And that’s a great place to be right now. (Previous ranking: 5)
Meanwhile, Will characterized Pawlenty as one of five plausible GOP candidates for president.
New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne said on NPR that they believed the race for the nomination came down to Romney and Pawlenty. (Side note: Both didn’t offer glowing praise of Pawlenty or the other GOP candidates. Brooks called the entire GOP field “extremely weak” if Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels doesn’t run. Dionne, a liberal Democrat, said Pawlenty reminded him of Michael Dukakis.)
Pawlenty hasn’t announced his intentions yet but he’s done everything but announce his candidacy. He wrote a book. He formed a federal PAC and state PACs in Iowa and New Hampshire. He campaigned for governors and candidates for Congress. He is also trying to stay active on cable TV. Pawlenty is also trying to get himself in front of the groups that will play a role in the nomination. He’s spoken to Tea Party groups, Chritsian groups and fiscal conservatives. All of those actions have helped him get the attention of the opinion leaders in Washington.
There are plenty of reasons Pawlenty could win the nomination. He was elected and reelected in a traditionally Democratic leaning state. He held the line on taxes and spending (sans a cigarette fee) during his time as governor. He has a compelling life story. Looser gun laws and stricter abortion laws were put in place during his tenure. He was vice-chair of the RGA and chaired the NGA.
But there are things that could make his path to victory difficult.
First, Pawlenty is polling in the single digits in many states. The name of the game is votes and other candidates are getting more support than him. One hopeful sign for Pawlenty is that many of those polled haven’t formed an opinion of him yet. That means he has plenty of time to introduce himself and make a first impression but it also means his political foes have time to define him as well.
Secondly, Minnesota’s press corps is not as transient as their counterparts in other states. Any attempts by Pawlenty to recast himself politically will be fact-checked by reporters who have known him much longer than his own campaign staff. Many Minnesota based reporters can talk not only about Pawlenty’s time as governor but his time in the Legislature.
Renewable energy. Pawlenty’s push to require Minnesota’s power companies to produce 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025 won’t be liked by conservatives who doubt global warming is even a problem. The GOP controlled Legislature is working to undermine those efforts this year. A DFL lawmaker used Pawlenty’s own words on renewable energy to defend the law in a video. Don’t think Mitt Romney’s people haven’t watched this video or are compiling their own video.
Another factor is Michele Bachmann. Both Pawlenty and Bachmann are from Minnesota. They could fight over donors. They could fight over support. GOP activists in other states may wonder why there are two candidates from the same state in the mix. It will not help if Pawlenty has to spend time and money keeping his Minnesota base in line. Stu Rothenberg, another member of the chattering class, noted this in a recent column.
Finally, Mark Dayton. Dayton hasn’t been shy about saying Pawlenty left the state in a fiscal mess or Pawlenty’s jobs record. Dayton also runs the agencies that Pawlenty was in charge of for eight years. There’s a reason President Obama campaigned for Dayton in October. First, he wanted to help a Democratic governor win an election. But the White House also knew that a Democrat living in the Governor’s Mansion in St. Paul would be helpful to their reelection campaign in 2012.
One other thing to note is that D.C. handicappers also get it completely wrong. Plenty of pundits thought Hillary Clinton had a clear path to victory in 2008. Others wrote and rewrote John McCain’s obituary months before he won the New Hampshire primary.
Question of the Day: Do you think Pawlenty can win the GOP nomination?