The Campaign Spot

Tim Pawlenty Gets Called Up to the Major Leagues

Few political figures have rolled out political action committees to greater fanfare than Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty did today. Pawlenty, whose term ends in January 2011, seemed to be punching above his weight today – featured on Drudge, a big profile on Politico, lots of bloggers on conference calls. It’s no secret that I liked Patrick Hynes, Liz Mair, Mindy Finn, and Patrick Ruffini before they signed on with Pawlenty; they clearly figured out how to generate maximum attention for the debut of Tim Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC.

Pawlenty is an exceptionally nice guy, so I hesitate before uttering a discouraging word. But I’d note that as he aims to raise his profile on the national stage, I think even his supporters could concede he’s not exactly a whirling dervish of raw charisma, and almost nothing he said today was terribly groundbreaking or stood out: the danger to liberty from “even well-meaning bureaucracies,” the fact that freedom requires the public to feel safe, the ability to pursue economic opportunity, and access to education and the ability to learn skills; the importance of reminding public that the promises that the other side makes are not free. He called the failure of schools to help students in disadvantaged communities is “the civil rights issue of our time.”

All good stuff, of course, but I was reminded of a conversation I had a few months ago with a top strategist for one of the Republican candidates of last year. He liked Pawlenty, but said he couldn’t describe himself as a believer: “Do you see Tim Pawlenty being the guy who gets up on a stage in fall of 2012 and rhetorically wins an argument against Barack Obama? No matter how hard I try, I just can’t see it.”

Asked about a presidential run, Pawlenty responded, “Both legally and practically, that’s not what the PAC is geared towards . . . Nobody, including me, should be focused on 2012. We should be focused on the elections in 2010 and 2009, and we have two important governor’s races this year. I’m working my tail off to help both, I’ve campaigned in both of those states for both of those candidates.” Freedom First PAC will hold its first fundraiser in Minneapolis in November.

It was the appropriate answer, but you don’t launch a PAC to help other Republicans and hire Bush and McCain folks if you have no interest in running for president. Perhaps, come 2012 (really 2011), after four years of soaring speeches that never led to any serious improvements, there will be a real appetite for a modest, soft-spoken Midwesterner in the Oval Office. But as effective as the “celebrity” charge was against Obama, that endlessly praised rhetoric, those grandiose promises, and the atmosphere of “celestial choirs” that Hillary mocked still won the election.


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