Tim Pawlenty Interview (Part 2) - does it help to be nice?
Former governor Tim Pawlenty has the rap that he is "too nice." A plugged-in Republican e-mails me, "Pawlenty is about as nice a guy you'll ever meet. Remember when girlfriends you had would break up with a guy because he was too nice? Same kinda thing." If that metaphor holds, Pawlenty has to hope that when it comes to marrying someone -- or picking a president -- that "nice" counts for something, especially at a time when the country is agonizing over how nasty is the political atmosphere.
In the remainder of our interview, Pawlenty talks about the personal influences in his life and gives some political analysis about 2010 and 2012.
Unlike the canned political answers you get from many politicians ("Ronald Reagan" has become such a cliché answer that at the recent RNC Chairman's Debate the moderators had to exclude that potential answer), he sticks to the personal, listing his parents, his wife of 23 years and his pastor. But he dwells the most on Dicky Johnson. Pawlenty recalls," He was the produce manager at the local grocery store. When my mom died when I was in 10th grade he called me up and understood the situation. He said to get there the next day. I showed up and he gave me a job." Pawlenty says that Johnson taught him "a lot about a work ethic." He says that Johnson wasn't well educated, "but he was educated in life."
It's clear that now his closest friend is his wife, Mary. In the current political age wives and family members inevitably attract the spotlight and sometimes exacting scrutiny in a presidential campaign. Michelle Obama drew heat for comments during the 2008 campaign. Rudy Giuliani's wife attracted criticism as well. And Cindy McCain had to address concerns that she was indifferent or even hostile to the national political scene. Pawlenty makes clear his wife is more in the mold of Laura Bush, a professional wife who will be at his side throughout a long campaign. He says of his wife, May, "We've been married 23 years and we knew each other for a couple of years before that." The two met in law school and she went on to a career as a judge. He describes her as "my soul mate and the love of my life." He says she is a "great sounding board."
In his book he describes a scene at the Pawlenty kitchen table as the couple plowed through the mound of paperwork in conjunction with his consideration as John McCain's vice presidential pick. They joked that Mitt Romney probably wasn't filling out the forms on his own. The message here: They are a normal couple, not surrounded or handled by a flock of political staffers.
It is clear, however, that Pawlenty understands the need for a well-organized campaign infrastructure. He already has it in place. His PAC has two co-chairs: former congressman and Republican veteran Vin Weber and Bill Strong. There are three senior advisers: Phil Musser, Sara Taylor Fagen (the hard-charging director of political operations in the Bush White House), and Terry Nelson (for a brief time, John McCain's campaign manager). Alex Conant is the communications director. Brian Haley (who worked on McCain's finance team) is the finance director, and Brian Hook, a veteran of the Bush administration, is the policy director. Hook was praised inside the Bush White House for his ability to distill complex policy issues. (A former colleague tells me, "Brian can explain tough policies about as well as anyone I ever worked with.") They also have some consultants in Iowa and New Hampshire. Conant confirms that a formal decision on whether to run will be made in March or April.
As he appears poised to jump into the 2012 race, what does Pawlenty think are the lessons for conservatives from the 2010 midterms? He says the results were "mixed" for outsider candidates. He points to Marco Rubio and Rand Paul as successes for the Tea Party. But he also acknowledges that the party suffered losses in Nevada and Delaware. The lesson, he discerns, is that "there is increasing acceptance for the Tea party message but you need to make sure it is successful."
Likewise, Republican insiders are concerned that a golden opportunity in 2012 may go to waste if an electable Republican isn't nominated. I ask Pawlenty whether he can overcome a fundraising advantage that Romney and other candidates may enjoy in 2012. He is matter of fact, "You have to be competitive on campaign finance." But, he argues, "The country these days is looking at the person more closely, especially in the early primary states where retail politics" is critical.
That is where Pawlenty will have his chance. If he can, as Barack Obama did in Iowa or John McCain did in New Hampshire, break through in an early state, the voters may take notice and the money could begin to flow. And in those early face-to-face encounters it may just be that "Minnesota nice" stands him in good stead.
| January 12, 2011; 8:30 AM ET
Categories: 2012 campaign
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