Ladies and gentlemen…introducing the next vice president of the United States: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
Although he is not yet appearing on media shortlists for likely Republican running mates, Governor Pawlenty is an obvious choice. Here’s why.
For one thing, Republicans still have a good shot to win next year. Consider the enormous disapproval rating for the Democratic Congress, some signs of progress in Iraq, and above all — the strong economy. Much of the calculus in the Electoral College will be involved in seeing whether the Republicans can win key battleground states in the Midwest. In 2004, President Bush won Ohio, and consequently reelection, by less than 120,000 votes. This time around, Ohio looks much stronger for the Democrats , which will require a new strategy on the part of Republicans.
One strategy proposed, is to look to the south in selecting a Republican nominee’s running mate. However, this makes little sense, given that the South is occupied largely by the Republican base, which ought to already be secured (and if it is not, then the Republican nominee is already in serious trouble). Even Mayor Giuliani, the most moderate of the leading Republican candidates, runs well in the south. This is, of course, in part because of his strong stance on national security and his public persona as a leader. Nonetheless, a Republican candidate, even a moderate Republican candidate, can reasonably rely on the votes of his southern base.
In the West, on the other hand, there are few Republican governors or leaders of national stature. So perhaps a better strategy would be to consider looking to the West for potential running mates who might expand the base, rather than isolate it. Specifically, Republicans should look to the super-state of “Minnewisowa,” Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Together, these states command 27 electoral votes, versus Ohio’s 20 votes. The potential exists for Republican victory in those states. In 2004, Bush won Iowa by under 10,000 votes and lost Wisconsin (amid allegations of fraud and tricks) by 11,384 votes, while losing Minnesota by 98,319 votes. So with a “home state” governor on the ticket, Republicans have an excellent shot at winning Minnesota, as well as the other two states, and through this, the election.
So the politics of choosing the Minnesota governor makes quite a lot of sense. But what about the substance? Is Governor Pawlenty someone who would appeal to the country?
The answer is unquestionably yes. As a candidate who said the GOP needs to be “the party of Sam’s Club, not just the country club,” Governor Pawlenty has a keen sense for the values and concerns of the middle class, particularly in the suburbs, whose support enabled him to win. It’s these voters that Republicans have been gradually losing in recent elections in states like California, Virginia, and Missouri. Governor Pawlenty ran as a strong anti-tax candidate committed to cutting wasteful government spending. He inherited a $4.5 billion deficit and converted it to a $2.2 billion surplus — without raising taxes. Rather, he accomplished this turnaround through hard work and constant bargaining with the legislature.
Governor Pawlenty believes in focusing government spending on core government functions. He increased K-12 education spending in Minnesota by $800 million and has proposed a plan for the top 25 percent of high-school graduates to go to college. His plan would pay for tuition for the first two years for these graduates and all four years in key fields such as science and technology. Sensitive to Minnesota’s strong environmental heritage, Governor Pawlenty doubled the state’s ethanol standard to reduce dependence on foreign oil. And he is using his chairmanship of the National Governors’ Association to focus on a “clean energy future.” (That national leadership role will give him good exposure over the next year as well.)
If he were chosen as a running mate, he would have to account for one potentially problematic decision. Just before the tragic crash of the I-35W bridge last month, Governor Pawlenty vetoed a highway construction bill. Though he did so for the best of reasons — he thought it was bloated with pork and wanted the legislature to try again — he will nonetheless have to account for the decision. As a member of the National Infrastructure Council, he will need to explain to Americans that their tax dollars should go for safe bridges, but never for unnecessary bridges and roads. After the bridge collapse, Governor Pawlenty reversed course and is now supporting an increase in the state gas tax, but one dedicated to infrastructure improvements.
In addition to his other political virtues, Governor Pawlenty is only 46. His youthful demeanor and attractive family would make a nice contrast to an older presidential nominee, such as John McCain or Fred Thompson.
One final advantage worth noting — the Republican Convention will be held next year in Minneapolis-St. Paul , and therefore Governor Pawlenty will already be assured of a place on the national stage as the host of that event. Just as in 1976 when President Ford chose the near-hometown Senator Bob Dole, so history should repeat itself next year with the nomination of Governor Pawlenty — that is, if the Republicans actually want to win.
–Mallory Factor is the co-founder of “The Monday Meeting.”