Tim Pawlenty may have been the featured speaker at the Tax Day rally held last week in Boston, but few in the assembled crowd considered themselves Pawlenty supporters.
When I asked around about Pawlenty, almost every person I talked to said the same thing: They didn’t know much about him.
“Pawlenty’s a good, strong conservative. I honestly don’t know enough about him to say he’s my guy. I’m very picky,” said one attendee named Maria, who like many of those I spoke to declined to give her last name. “He [Pawlenty] may not be tough enough,” worried another tea partier, Louis. “Whoever runs against Obama is going to have to be strong.”
Despite Pawlenty’s obvious overtures to tea partiers in recent months, including a video entitled “Tea Party: A New Birth of Freedom,” the tea partiers present talked about other candidates for 2012, such as Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and Donald Trump. They spoke wistfully of a Chris Christie run, enthused over Michele Bachmann, and talked about freshman House member Allen West as a possible candidate.
Christen Varley, who chairs the Greater Boston Tea Party and organized the rally, spoke positively about Pawlenty’s record as Minnesota governor and his political beliefs.
“It’s all about jobs which create tax revenue,” said Varley, talking about what was needed for an economic recovery. “It’s not about raising taxes and causing jobs to be lost. It’s about creating more jobs, and that’s best done by the private sector. Pawlenty understands that.”
But there was also a convenience factor in Pawlenty’s invite: A friend of Varley’s had a mutual friend with Pawlenty, and was able to put Varley in touch with the campaign. “Tim Pawlenty was in New Hampshire this morning [for a speech],” said Varley. “So it was just really fortuitous that he was in the area. It’s hard to get presidential candidates to show up, because they want to be everywhere.”
One boon for Pawlenty is that his prospective candidacy drew little opposition from the tea partiers. That wasn’t the case for Mitt Romney, who elicited divided reactions among the Massachusetts crowd, some of whom praised his business acumen while others blasted Romneycare. (One reaction to Romney: “Romney? I’ll become Canadian. He ruined the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”)
Donald Trump also generated mixed reactions, with some laughing off his candidacy and others saying they were fans. “If Donald Trump runs, I think I’m going to vote for him, because he’s telling it like it is,” a woman named Pat said.
Unlike Trump, Pawlenty has made it clear that he is serious about a presidential run in recent weeks, announcing an exploratory committee and a series of high-profile hires, including former Republican Governors Association director Nick Ayers as campaign manager, pollster Jon Lerner, and former John McCain adviser Jon Seaton as political director. He reported $160,000 in donations over the ten-day period after his committee launch, and is busily reaching out to more donors.
Yet many of the tea partiers still hold out hope for the emergence of a new candidate, one who holds Tea Party values, generates enthusiasm, and hasn’t been a politician so long that he or she appears to be a career or professional politician. Paul Ryan was mentioned, as was Christie. One man, undeterred by Christie’s refusal to run, hopefully spoke of a primary so divided that a surprise vote by the delegates at the GOP convention could make Christie the candidate.
Pawlenty’s brief speech, which balanced slams of Obama’s record with hopeful talk about a prosperous future that conservative polices could bring, was well-received, generating cheers and claps. But while Pawlenty himself was swarmed by fans and media after the speech, most of the crowd had dissipated less than ten minutes after he had spoken. There weren’t clusters buzzing with excitement over a Pawlenty run.
During the rally, a dedicated band of Pawlenty supporters emerged. Passing out Pawlenty 2012 stickers and talking about him to attendees, the volunteers proved that former Minnesota governor can inspire dedication. Jessie Nicholson, pushing one child in a stroller and keeping an eye on her slightly older son, told me that she had been impressed by Pawlenty’s budgeting decisions in Minnesota and willingness to make hard decisions when confronted with a budget deficit.
“I think that Governor Pawlenty is someone that people sort of in the middle and then also in all parts of the Republican party can get behind and support,” Nicholson, a Pawlenty volunteer, said. “He’s kind of a common man, really likeable person, and really good at communicating those kinds of nuts-and-bolts issues.”
“I hope that he does well,” she added. “I’m excited about what he could do for America.”
Excited is not a word often heard in conjunction with Pawlenty’s name. But for an electorate that has soured on President Obama’s celebrity status, excitement may not be nearly as important a factor as executive experience.
“He’s got two terms as a governor so far,” approvingly mused John, an attendee at the rally. “He sounds like a guy who’s pretty level-headed. I’d like to hear some more from him before I make up my mind.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO staff reporter.