Pawlenty also owns an established record of appealing to independent voters. He was elected governor of deep-blue Minnesota in 2002, cultivated an admirable – though not flawless – record of governance, and was re-elected in 2006, a rare bright spot for Republicans that year. One of the few pertinent questions voters ask themselves to evaluate Vice Presidential candidates is, “Could this person assume the presidency and do a credible job, if, God forbid, it should become necessary?” Pawlenty’s eight years as a chief executive, salted heavily with international travel to augment his foreign policy chops, should decisively answer that question in the affirmative. The man is prepared to be president.
Two more considerations: Pawlenty’s status as a Midwesterner would add some geographic diversity to the ticket, which is sometimes seen as a relevant “balancing” consideration. His Great Lakes, blue-collar background would have regional appeal in areas that were crucial to last year’s Republican landslide – namely, states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Whether he could make his home state even somewhat competitive is an open question.
Finally, despite all the disparaging analysis (some of it deserved) that he’s not a dynamic presence on the campaign trail, Pawlenty does not commit major, unforced errors. As a fixture on McCain’s short list for VP three years ago, Pawlenty has been vetted and re-vetted at a very high level. If Republicans are intent on making the 2012 campaign a referendum on President Obama (as they should), fielding an pre-scrutinized, workmanlike, reliable, and generally unthreatening Vice Presidential nominee would be helpful. If the goal is to spotlight Obama’s failures, it wouldn’t hurt to have a disciplined campaign veteran on the ticket who isn’t a liability, and who wouldn’t draw undue and unwanted attention. In short, one of Pawlenty’s underrated attributes is that he would almost certainly do no harm.
On a personal level, I’m told Perry and Pawlenty get along exceptionally well, and traveled together fairly extensively during their Republican Governors Association days. A well-placed GOP consultant says that despite his professed lack of interest in being considered for the number two spot next year, Pawlenty would “seriously consider” the offer if it’s extended – perhaps especially so if it comes from Perry.
Perry-Pawlenty would offer voters a robust contrast next year: Two proven, competent, budget-balancing, conservative chief executives vs. a pair of failed, liberal former legislators whose self-regard far outstrips their accomplishments. Pawlenty certainly has his shortcomings, but in light of the case laid out above, the future GOP nominee would be wise to at least give him a long, serious look.
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