Minn.'s Pawlenty: A contender to reshape GOP's 2012 image

If you missed any of this year's primaries -- or just forgot -- here are the names and faces you need to know in November.
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2010; 2:55 PM

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has little of the star power of Sarah Palin. He has not been around the presidential track in the way of Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee. He does not have the political network of Haley Barbour. He is not a provocateur of ideas like Newt Gingrich.

None of that seems to bother him as he weighs whether to seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. He thinks he has something others don't have, which is the capacity to help put a more appealing face on a party that still suffers from image problems with many voters.

Pawlenty, just back from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, was in Washington on Monday for a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. Most of the hour-long discussion centered on his views about the wars, financial regulatory reform, health care, deficits and spending and taxes, and immigration.

(The Fix: Tim Pawlenty doubles down on Afghanistan)

On all those questions, he hewed to a firmly conservative line. He argued strongly for a stay-the-course policy in Afghanistan. He opposed President Obama's July 2011 deadline for the start of a drawdown of forces and said more troops might even be necessary to assure eventual success.

"If we're serious about what this means in terms of terrorism, if we're serious about that it means in terms of the threat to the United States of American and our national security interests, then we need to be serious about seeing it through to the point that we're satisfied that our objectives have been met," he said.

On fiscal issues, he said the administration has spent too much for too little on the economy and that, if Republicans take control of one or both chambers of Congress this fall and the president's debt and deficit commission then offers recommendations that include any new taxes, "it's going to be a non-starter."

He called the new health-care law misguided and said he and most Republicans still want to repeal it and replace it with something else. He said Arizona's new immigration law has been "wildly and irresponsibly and recklessly mischaracterized" by government officials including the president.

There were no surprises in the positions he expressed. Nothing to suggest he will offer the country a different conservative vision if he runs for president. If anything, he demonstrated the degree to which Republicans have unified around a message of opposition to the Obama agenda and that deviation from that line will not be welcomed in the 2012 sweepstakes.

But Pawlenty also said that issues will not be all that decisive in that competition. "There will be general agreement as to the content of the message," he continued, "but the real question's going to be as to tone and face and credibility, who is best situated to open the door to people who are not yet Republicans to say we understand what you're going through, and we can make a connection to you in ways that have some credibility."

Pawlenty argued that, after the November elections, the Republicans would have a new, younger and more diverse set of leaders to present to the country. He cited South Carolina's Nikki Haley, favored to win the governor's race there and become the first Indian American woman to lead her state. She would join another Indian American, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, as part of the party's new leadership.

(Campaign 2010: Congressional & Governors races)

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