Steve Chapman

The broad theme of Pawlenty's "Road to Results" tour is directed at Obama. But it would work as well for some of his GOP rivals, particularly Michele Bachmann. A third-term member of Congress, she has never held an executive office, but her broadsides enthrall the party's most intense conservatives.

If Pawlenty hopes to succeed in the Iowa caucuses, he will have to overcome his fellow Minnesotan, who had 33 percent of the vote in Iowa in a recent poll, compared to 13 for him. But the caucuses are six months away, and Pawlenty knows some things that may explain his cheerful mien.

One is that Americans like presidents with executive branch experience. Of the last seven people elected president before Obama, each had been a governor or vice president.

Yet another is that the GOP candidates who stand farthest to the right are rarely chosen to lead. John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush, the last four nominees, were merely conservative enough. These facts are also of great comfort in Mitt Romney's camp.

But T-Paw, as he likes to be called, has some other advantages that may pay off in the long run. He's relaxed and comfortable in front of a crowd -- in a way the overeager Romney is not. His style is likely to wear well and make his often sharply conservative positions more palatable to independent voters.

It's hard to envision Pawlenty saying or doing something that would suddenly send his campaign up in flames. It puts no strain on the imagination to picture Bachmann doing that.

But his more placid personality should not be taken as moderation. He is a genuine conservative bent on turning the tea party's zeal into policies that would tightly constrain the federal government for decades to come. That accomplishment would not come without a long series of bitter battles.

Pawlenty's personality on the stump may come across as slightly dull. A Pawlenty presidency, rest assured, would not be.

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Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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