Tim Pawlenty has signed Jon Lerner as the pollster for his soon-to-be-announced presidential campaign, the latest in a string of high-profile hires for the former Minnesota governor.

“I took a lot of time to look at the candidates and the records of the candidates in the field,” said Lerner in an interview with The Fix. “The more I looked at it, the more I was impressed with what Tim Pawlenty was able to do in Minnesota.”

Lerner is one of the lowest-profile consultants in Washington but has a long list of wins under his belt. In the 2010 cycle, he helped elect Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), as well as Govs. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) and Sean Parnell (R-Alaska). Lerner has also long been involved with the Club for Growth’s political activities.

Like Pawlenty, Lerner spent his formative years in Minnesota, but the two men’s paths never crossed before last year. (Pawlenty served as the vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and Lerner was one of the organization’s lead consultants.)

Lerner explained that he was drawn to Pawlenty because of his belief that the governor can effectively articulate the economic message so central to most GOP primary voters.

“The candidate who becomes the nominee of our party is the one who can most credibly speak to the cluster of voters that are heavily motivated by economic and size-of-government concerns, and Tim Pawlenty’s record and positions on those issues are very compelling,” said Lerner.

Lerner joins a rapidly-expanding senior political team for Pawlenty that includes Nick Ayers, the campaign manager, and Jon Seaton, the political director — moves that should put to rest any lingering doubts about whether the former governor is running for president.

The hirings, while largely ignored by most voters, will almost certainly build on the positive buzz for Pawlenty in the political chattering class. Success in the staff chase shows seriousness and, Pawlenty hopes, will help drive donors to invest in his campaign.

The next few months — the second fundraising quarter ends on June 30 — will be critical for Pawlenty to translate that positive buzz into actual dollars.

Santorum setting up exploratory committee: As expected, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum announced on Fox News last night that he is setting up a presidential exploratory committee.

In a brief appearance, he told host Greta van Susteren that he wants to run but needs to see if he can raise the money for a campaign. Right now, he’s “testing the waters.”

Santorum has been pretty clear about his intentions for months now; he’s made dozens of trips to early primary states and signed up for a debate this summer in New Hampshire.

Dems fighting for health care law: A group of Democrats, including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, are launching a new health-care advocacy campaign today.

The effort includes a 501c(3) called “Know Your Care” and a 501c(4) lobbying group, “Protect Your Care.” The former will do outreach promoting the health-care law; the latter will lobby against efforts to defund or repeal it.

The leadership team includes a number of veterans of President Obama’s 2008 campaign, including veteran strategists Jim Margolis and Paul Tewes. Others includes top Democratic pollster John Anzalone, longtime Washington communications hand David Di Martino and former AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale.

DCCC pays down more than half of its debt: Setting Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee records and blowing past aggressive goals, committee chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) will announce today that the DCCC has paid off 60 percent its 2010 cycle debt – from $19.5 million in January to $8 million in March – and raised $19.6 million in the first quarter.

This is the strongest off-year first quarter in DCCC history. The committee entered the 2010 cycle with more debt than its GOP counterpart, but it paid off more than half of that debt in March alone and could find itself on similar financial footing with the National Republican Congressional Committee — which has yet to release its March numbers — soon.

Louisiana map finalized: After a week and a half of drama, Louisiana passed a congressional redistricting plan just before the deadline Wednesday, and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said he would sign it into law.

The plan retains the two vertical northern Louisiana districts that Jindal wanted while working out some contentious issues in the southern part of the state.

It decimated freshman Rep. Jeff Landry’s (R) southeastern 3rd district, splitting it between Reps. Charles Boustany (R), Steve Scalise (R) and Bill Cassidy (R). Landry now lives in Boustany’s southwestern district, where he would be a significant underdog in a primary, with the lion’s share of the new 3rd district being Boustany’s territory.

Rep. John Fleming’s (R) 4th district will remain in northwest Louisiana, while Rep. Rodney Alexander’s (R) 5th is still in the northeast (his district will also stretch along the northern parts of Plantation Country and Greater New Orleans).

Scalise’s eastern 1st district wraps around New Orleans into much of Landry’s old district in the southeast. Rep. Cedric Richmond’s (D) jagged 2nd district unites African-American areas of New Orleans and Baton Rouge to maintain its majority-black status after Hurricane Katrina. And Cassidy’s 6th district wraps around the western half of Richmond’s district.

(See the map here, on page 10.)

Meanwhile, in Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad (R) doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to approve the state’s new redistricting plan, but he also said he hasn’t heard of any reason why the plan should be rejected.

The state legislature could give its final approval today, which would leave Branstad three days to sign the bill.


House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calls Obama’s speech Wednesday a “political broadside.”

For what it’s worth, former senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) thinks Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) will run for reelection.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) frightened airport workers as he hopped over them and vehicles on the ground when he tried to land his plane on a closed Texas runway last year.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s (R) Senate campaign is embarking on a 12-city political tour.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) raised a strong $1.2 million in the first quarter and has about $3 million in the bank.


A mural in Maine pits Gov. Paul LePage against labor unions” — Jason Horowitz, Washington Post

Gov. Chris Christie considers rescheduling N.J. primary to boost influence on presidential race” — Chris Megerian, Newark Star-Ledger

Barbour tells N.H. he would be ‘plainspoken’ candidate” — Glen Johnson, Boston Globe