Does the Pawlenty for Veep idea ‘border on delusional?’

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Did he have a chance before the McCain campaign folded? And does he have a chance now?

Has the near-demise of the John McCain presidential bid ended Tim Pawlenty’s chance of being on the GOP ticket in 2008?

No, says Larry Jacobs, because that chance was always “remote and bordering on delusional.”

Opinion: Does the Pawlenty for Veep idea ‘border on delusional?’

This caught me off guard. My buddy Jacobs, director of the Humphrey Institute’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, is a brilliant political commentator, usually cautious about predictions but sure-footed in analysis.

Considering all the Pawlenty for Veep foofrah of the past months, I was in the habit of treating the veep idea as perhaps a bit hyped up by local boosterism but, well, undelusional. I suppose that’s mostly because the great mentioners have been mentioning Pawlenty relentlessly since his narrow 2006 re-election. And they still are, as I’ll update below. But first, the Jacobs knockdown of the V.P. Pawlenty speculation:

“When the time comes in 2008 to make that choice, the presidential nominee and the people in the room with him will be starkly and intensely focused on one question: Who will help us win?” Jacobs said.

For a governor of a medium-sized state to be the answer, Jacobs said, he would have to be a policy star who had become the public face of some popular policy, or he would have to be a proven national vote-getter, or he would have to be able to deliver an important swing state, Jacobs said. He believes Pawlenty misses on all three scores.

He is not known nationally for any particular policy area (although he just this week staked out renewable energy as an area in which he hopes to develop into a policy star through his new gig as chair of the National Governors Association).

He has no track record as a national vote-getter (and if the vice presidential vetting team was checking him out, they would soon discover that he has never received 50 percent of the vote even in Minnesota and that his 2006 re-election owed much to Mike Hatch’s final week meltdown).

And as things now stand, Jacobs believes, putting Pawlenty on the ticket would not be enough to end Minnesota’s 36-year unbroken string of giving its electoral votes to the Democrats.

Pawlenty is young (age 46), appealing and politically talented, said Jacobs. He’s an up-and-comer in the national GOP picture. It’s easy and realistic to think that he might have a future in the Senate, the cabinet or as candidate for national office. But when the big cigars face the big choice, up-and-coming isn’t going to cut it. They’ll be totally focused on help-us-in-the-Electoral-College.

The Rothenberg reality check

Jacobs knockdown was so emphatic that I wondered whether we had been completely taken in by Minnesotan ethnocentrism. So I called a couple of Washington-based pundits as a reality check.

Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report and his colleague Nathan Gonzales assured that Minnesotans had not imagined that Pawlenty was a topic of inside-the-beltway buzz. Rothenberg and Gonzales bought most of Jacobs’ facts, but not his overall analysis. Said Gonzalez:

“There clearly are folks inside the beltway who think he has potential. A big part of the reason his name is being thrown around is that Washington is such a toxic political environment right now that there’s a tendency to want to think of people who are not associated with Washington.

So naturally, you look at governors. And the list of Republican governors who aren’t in big trouble, who won in 2006, especially in swing states … well. It’s a very short list and he’s on it.”

Rothenberg said Pawlenty’s relationship with McCain provided a convincing story line. An older presidential candidate with a younger running mate, a Southwesterner with an Upper Midwesterner, a senator with a governor, and while the weak spot on Pawlenty’s resume is national security, McCain would supply the strengths in that area. Rothenberg added:

“Of course it depends on who the nominee is, what he thinks he needs, but Pawlenty continues to have assets that make him potentially appealing. And bear in mind, there aren’t a lot of hot Republican prospects for anything these days. So he could be on the short list because the list of people who could be on the short list is already a short list.”

Rothenberg was invited to, but couldn’t make, a Washington luncheon last week organized by former Republican National Chairman (and chair of President Bush’s 2004 campaign) Ken Mehlman and Vin Weber, the lobbyist, former Minnesota congressman and GOP insider.

Rothenberg says that if Mehlman is touting Pawlenty, that adds to the buzz.

The Governor’s Association Granfalloon

The Strib gave big play Monday and Tuesday to Pawlenty’s investiture as chair of the National Governor’s Association, describing the gig as giving Pawlenty “a year in the national spotlight.”

Rothenberg and Gonzalez agreed that the NGA post is, as Gonzalez put it, “not a significant launching pad for a next step up the ladder in national politics.”

Jacobs said that if, as Pawlenty intends, he can use the post to create a breakthrough across many states for clean energy alternatives, it could provide some of the missing policy stardom. But to do that, Jacobs said, Pawlenty will have to work across party lines (most of the governors are Democrats) more effectively than he has in St. Paul.

Meanwhile, I checked the history of the NGA chairmanship. Pawlenty is the 90th chair. Most of them were names you would not recognize. Several moved on to the Senate, the cabinet and candidacies (Mike Huckabee and Howard Dean) for president. One of TPaw’s NGA predecessors (Bill Clinton) became president. But none of the others has ever become president, vice president nor been part of a national ticket.