Tim Pawlenty is running for President


by Jeff Fecke | June 2, 2009 • Okay, he hasn’t announced that yet, but he took the first, unsurprising step today:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty ( R ) will not seek a third term in 2010, clearing the way for an expected bid for the 2012 presidential nomination, according to sources close to the governor.

Pawlenty will announce that he is not running later this afternoon in a conference call with reporters scheduled for 3 p.m. ET.

The decision comes after months of debate within Pawlenty’s inner circle about his next step politically.

Given the difficult state of the economy — both nationally and in Minnesota — as well as Pawlenty’s near-death political experience in 2006 when he won 51 percent to 47 percent* in a three-way race, running for a third term was a precarious endeavor.

And, a loss in a 2010 bid would almost certainly disqualify Pawlenty as a potential presidential candidate in 2012 a la former Virginia senatorGeorge Allen in 2006/2008.

Actually, there’s one factual error in that article: Gov. Timmy won the 2006 race 47%-46%-6%. And as we all know, that was gift-wrapped by DFL nominee Mike Hatch, who melted down at the end of the week before the election, calling one reporter a “Republican whore” (Hatch’s explanation was that he’d been misquoted, and that he’d called the reporter a “Republican hack,” an explanation that didn’t really explain anything other than his choice of epithet) and generally behaving like a major-league jerk, and Pawlenty still only managed to win by 21,000 votes out of 2.2 million cast. And early polling for 2010, while it showed Pawlenty ahead, also showed Pawlenty right at 50 percent support — a bad place to be if you’re an incumbent.

Tim Pawlenty is not stupid, and winning a third term is unlikely in the best of circumstances; indeed, since Minnesota switched to four-year terms, nobody’s won a third consecutive term. Pawlenty could have been the one to do it, but he’d be gambling his 2012 aspirations on what is at best a 50/50 proposition. He remembers the George Allen campaign for the presidency, and he knows that he’s better off taking two years off to wander the corn fields of Iowa, hoping that as a next-door neighbor he can win there.

The short-term fallout from this will be focused on the Coleman/Franken race. Pawlenty is freed-up to deny an election certificate to Al Franken if he wants to, without fear that it will redound on him negatively in 2010. I don’t think he’s going to have much choice, but we’ll see.

Medium-term impact will be on the Republicans who will have to make a quick decision about 2010. They start out at a small disadvantage over candidates like Matt Entenza who have been running for years, but presumably at least some of them have been making contingency plans. I wouldn’t be surprised if House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, State Rep. (and former Secretary of State) Mary Kiffmeyer, former State Auditor Pat Anderson, or State Sen. Geoff Michel throw their hats in the ring. Former Sen. Norm Coleman has been mentioned as a possible candidate, but I think the ongoing investigation into whether he was on the take will be a dealbreaker. I would be surprised if Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Erik Paulsen, or Rep. John Kline jump in, though if any would, it would be Bachmann. And of course, there are always wild-cards; businessman Brian Sullivan nearly won the GOP endorsement in 2002, and he’s always a possibility. Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau may well run, though I doubt she’d win. And past office-holders like former Sen. Rod Grams and former Rep. Jim Ramstad could be persuaded to run. (Ramstad would win easily if he could get the GOP nomination, but I doubt he could).

This also makes 2010 easier for the DFL, although they’ll no longer be able just to throw spitballs at Pawlenty; this probably favors Entenza and Dayton the most, as they’ve got the most developed policy positions in the race so far, but if any of the DFL candidates weren’t contingency-planning for this, they deserve to lose.

Long-term, of course, leads us to 2012. Can Tim Pawlenty win the GOP nomination? In some ways, he’s perfect for it. He comes across as very calm and measured on television, but he has strong ties in the evangelical community (especially through his wife former Judge Mary Pawlenty, who is very active in that community), and thanks to his unallotment games, he’s managed to get through eight years without raising taxes, which is bad for the state but good for getting through the GOP primaries. Could he win the presidency? That will all boil down to how the country’s going. If we’re on an upswing and Barack Obama is as popular in 2012 as he is today, then no. Jesus Christ wouldn’t be able to beat him under those circumstances. But if things turn sour, then who knows? Three years is a lifetime in politics.

Tim Pawlenty’s decision today was the best decision for his political future, and indeed, the obvious decision. And whether he wins the presidency or not, he’s not done. Indeed, should his 2012 bid fall short, I fully expect to see him back here in 2014, challenging incumbent Sen. Al Franken, DFL-Minn. We’ll see soon enough, I suppose.

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