Monday Fix

Pawlenty's forays demonstrate need for polish

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty stuck his neck out for losing Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty stuck his neck out for losing Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. (Doug Wells/associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 9, 2009

Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, after making a series of smart strategic moves over the past few months in advance of an expected run for president in 2012, has struggled on the national stage in the past few weeks.

First, Pawlenty waded into a special congressional election in upstate New York on behalf of Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman -- a move that came directly on the heels of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's decision to endorse Hoffman over Dede Scozzafava (R), a state assemblywoman.

"We cannot send more politicians to Washington who wear the Republican jersey on the campaign trail, but then vote like Democrats in Congress on issues like card check and taxes," Pawlenty said in a statement announcing his decision.

Then, in an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" last Monday, Pawlenty seemed to make an unforced error by calling into question whether Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R) truly belonged within the Republican party.

"If Olympia Snowe disagrees with us on one or two things, there's room for her, of course," said Pawlenty. "But if she disagrees on everything, then that's a problem."

In retrospect, neither move was a smart one. Hoffman fell short in the special election, and Pawlenty had to reach out to Snowe in the wake of his comments to make clear that his belief was that the party was a big tent rather than a small one.

Pawlenty detractors are sure to see these two incidents as evidence of a transparent attempt to tack to his ideological right in advance of a presidential primary process that is dominated by conservative activists.

Defenders of the governor insist that his motives had little to do with 2012. In the case of New York's 23rd District, he felt compelled to get involved once he became aware of the selection process -- 11 county chairs picked the nominee -- and Scozzafava's support for the Employee Free Choice Act. With Snowe, it was less a premeditated attempt to appease the right than a simple mistake by a candidate somewhat new to the national stage.

Fair enough. But, regardless of why Pawlenty did what he did, his actions over the last week reveal how difficult and fraught with peril the national political scene is for candidates who are new to it.

Brown waits on Feinstein

The recent decision by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to drop his candidacy for governor of California left only state Attorney General Jerry Brown in the race for the Democratic nod, robbing political junkies of what was expected to be one of the premier primaries in the country.

But Brown's primary primacy was short-lived, as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) told a local California newspaper late last week that she was still mulling a run for governor and would make a decision in early 2010.

Feinstein's waiting-and-watching approach is a major change from the expectation in Democratic political circles that she had long ago decided against the race, preferring to stay in Washington and retain her post as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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