The 49-year-old, whom Chris Cillizza calls a “near certain 2012 presidential candidate,” looked like a man at ease with the medium — casual blue shirt, no tie, and a focused, relaxed mien, even when the streaming video sputtered. While the purpose of the online event was ostensibly to unveil seven new endorsements by his political action committee, it was also an overture by Pawlenty to the growing contingent of conservative activists who congregate and communicate on Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Reaching out to that community is nothing new for the Minnesotan. In February, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, he hosted a well-received happy hour with bloggers.
Pawlenty opened tonight with a reprimand of the Obama agenda. “I sense the country is waking up to the facts,” he said, wagging his finger at various big-government takeovers. But all is not lost, he continued. With a wink at 2012, he cited a recent trip to Manchester, N.H., and the “passion and energy” he witnessed in local GOP ranks.
Thoughts soon turned toward November, and Republicans’ chances of taking back Congress. Pawlenty predicted a “significant pickup” of House and Senate seats. To help that cause, he said his PAC will now rally behind seven new candidates, with more to be announced in coming weeks. The endorsements revealed this evening include two U.S. Senate candidates — Gov. John Hoeven in North Dakota and former congressman Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania — plus five U.S. House candidates. That list included two Pennsylvanians, Tim Burns (Pa.-12) and Pat Meehan (Pa.-7), as well as Charles Djou of Hawaii, Robert Dold of Illinois, and Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. Foreshadowing future support efforts, Pawlenty also spoke highly of GOP gubernatorial candidates like Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Ohio’s John Kasich, and Oklahoma’s Mary Fallin.
After 30 minutes of to-and-fro with participants, T-Paw tube clicked off. National Review Online caught up with the governor for some post-Facebook analysis, just before he hurried off to a Minnesota Wild hockey game.
“We had a few technical issues, but it’s a new adventure,” Pawlenty says. “The spirit behind the town hall is to hear from people and to have people hear from you. We took that intent and setting and exponentially expanded it with technology. Now people can connect with a candidate or policy leader, and with each other, in a very convenient, easy, and user-friendly way. It’s a tremendous tool that unleashes the power of the people to be involved.”
It also gives him the power to introduce lesser-known Republicans to a national audience. In that sense, he said the medium influenced tonight’s message, and which endorsements to announce. “Hoeven is someone I know personally,” Pawlenty says. “He’s my neighbor up by Minnesota. Toomey is someone who has the potential of being a transformative figure for the conservative movement in America. We did a fundraiser for him in Minneapolis. But it is our House race selections that are most important. These are all ‘young guns’ — mostly folks who aren’t well-known and lacking huge national followings and networks. We see them as people that can win, as candidates who have the capacity to be future conservative leaders. The established candidates already have a lot of help. This was to raise the young guns’ profiles.”
Pawlenty adds that his web operation is just beginning, and that he has been an active user of social-networking tools for the last couple years. “I used to do more Twitter, but I have an active Facebook page for the PAC which I review on a daily basis,” he says. Nevertheless, despite his active online profile, don’t expect the governor to comment on your wall, since he says he does not hold a personal Facebook account, “mostly because of my schedule and the little time I’d have to maintain it.”
“Social media is the future,” Pawlenty says, rushing to see the puck drop. “For generations younger than me, it is the main avenue of communication. Anyone who wants to reach out and help to grow a movement has to adapt and become adept with these tools.”