The case for Tim Pawlenty
By Chris Cillizza,
Pawlenty won’t be exploring for long as sources close to him suggest he will formally enter the race later this spring.
So, Pawlenty’s running. But, can he win?
Today we make the case for Pawlenty as the Republican nominee. Tomorrow we argue the opposite.
* Everything to everyone: Usually trying to be all things to all people is a recipe for political disaster. But, in Pawlenty’s case it may well be an advantage. Pawlenty isn’t likely to be the first choice of any of the GOP’s disparate interest groups but there isalso no group that is adamantly opposed to the idea of him as the nominee. And, a look back at the last two Republican presidential nominees — George W. Bush and John McCain — reveals that the party tends to pick the person who is able to appeal to the broadest number of constituencies within the party rather than the person who embodies the ideal pick of a single constituency group. Pawlenty, at the moment, is lots of peoples’ second choice. As the field narrows — and it will narrow — Pawlenty is likely to pick up supporters of other candidates because he is good — if not great — on the issues that matter most to them.
* An early state path: Winning in Iowa or New Hampshire — or, ideally, both — is absolutely essential for a lesser known candidate like Pawlenty to make a real run at the nomination. Lucky for him, he has a plausible case for why he can be competitive in both states, a case that many other candidates in the field (or soon to be in the field) simply can’t make. Pawlenty is the only candidate likely to run who has represented a state that borders Iowa . That geographical proximity will allow him to effectively make the case that he knows the worries and dreams of Hawkeye State Republicans best. In New Hampshire, Pawlenty’s image as an average Joe who happens to love ice hockey — Pawlenty was featured on skates in the video announcing his exploratory committee — should play well too. Pawlenty has already seen some results, in fact, in the Granite State; a recent independent poll showed him in third place behind only former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is the clear favorite in new Hampshire in 2012, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. What we don’t know is whether an underwhelming performance by Pawlenty in Iowa — anything other than first or second — would effectively zero out any native strength he might have in New Hampshire.
* Selling the story: In a very real way, people are voting for a story when it comes to their vote for president. Issues clearly matter but the presidential vote often comes down less to where a candidates stands on any one particular issue then whether people believe that he (or she) is coming from a genuine place and understands their lives. Pawlenty’s story is a good one. He was raised in a blue collar community in South St. Paul and lost his mother at age 16. His father was a truck driver who lost his job. Pawlenty was the first person in his family to graduate from college. Add all that up and Pawlenty’s middle class message — he regularly says he wants the GOP to be “the party of Sam’s Club not the country club” — is compelling. Pawlenty is already beginning to preview how he will use that message in the campaign to come. “At a young age I saw up close the face of challenge, the face of hardship and the face of job loss,” Pawlenty says in his exploratory committee video. “I know many Americans are feeling that way today. I know that feeling. I lived it.” In an election almost certain to be decided on the economy, Pawlenty’s story allows him to empathize with voters’ struggles in a way few of the other candidates will be able to do.
* Both Feet In: Presidential politics rarely rewards those who are anything short of 100 percent committed to the rigors of what running for national office means. (See Thompson, Fred circa 2008.) Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire expect to be personally courted — and then courted again and again. Those expectations require a candidate to give his life over to the campaign in order to win. Pawlenty understands the needs for total commitment — as evidenced by his relentless travel schedule over the past year in a dual role as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association and as a presidential candidate-in-waiting. Pawlenty’s wife, Mary, is also totally on board with the run, a huge (and often overlooked) factor in the success of any campaign. Pawlenty appears set to fill the role that Romney played in the 2008 campaign, the candidate who will be everywhere — and often — during the primary fight.
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