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T-Paw's Opportunity

As the never-ending Senate race between former senator Norm Coleman (R) and entertainer Al Franken (D), one politician has emerged unsullied (so far) from the messy proceedings: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R).

Pawlenty has been an increasingly frequent guest on various cable talk shows to discuss the race and his own stance toward it -- coming off as an affable but staunch defender of Coleman's right to continue his legal appeals despite his 312 vote deficit.

Last night Pawlenty appeared on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" to plead for patience in Minnesota while dodging the question of whether he would sign the election certificate for Franken if the state Supreme Court rules against Coleman's latest appeal.

"We just need more information as to evaluating this case," argued Pawlenty. "Some counties took a very strict view of what absentee ballots should be counted under the strict requirement of our laws, others were more lax about it."

It's hard to argue with Pawlenty's even-handed, just-the-facts-ma'am approach -- heck even Maddow acknowledged he was a "good sport" -- and, for those national GOP observers getting their first extended look at T-Paw, it's likely they will come away with a favorable impression.

But will Pawlenty's short-term gain as it relates to the Minnesota Senate imbroglio turn into long term pain?

Politico's Manu Raju made the case recently that the answer to that question is yes, noting that if Pawlenty refuses to sign the certificate formalizing Franken as the winner (assuming Coleman's state Supreme Court challenge comes up short) he risks the ire of an electorate he may well face in two years time for reelection, and, if he decides to sign it, he would likely anger conservative Republicans who might be far less willing to support a Pawlenty presidential bid in 2012 as a result.

All true -- especially considering that national Democrats are already ramping up the pressure on Pawlenty to call the race over after the state Supreme Court rules. "Governor Pawlenty has said that Minnesota is suffering from not having two Senators," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director Eric Schultz. "Governor Pawlenty ought to make clear that if former Senator Coleman chooses to appeal the outcome of the contest in the state Supreme Court that this is the end of the road -- and that, consistent with the law, he will certify Al Franken the winner following that state court appeal."

But, much of that analysis hinges on the idea that Pawlenty is still leaning toward running for a third term -- a presumption with which we tend to disagree.

Those close to Pawlenty insist he is genuinely conflicted about whether or not to run again and won't make his mind up until early summer. And, we take them at their word.

That said, if Pawlenty wants to be a serious contender for president in 2012, it makes little sense for him to run for reelection as he narrowly escaped defeat in 2006 against a lackluster Democratic nominee (former state Attorney General Mike Hatch) and, given Minnesota's decided shift toward Democrats in recent elections, it's hard to imagine his odds at a third term would be any better than 50-50. A loss in 2010 would doom him for 2012 -- see: Allen, George.

Couple the real possibility of defeat with the fact that Pawlenty has a nearly non-existent political operation and it's even harder to see why he runs for reelection. As former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) demonstrated in the 2008 primaries, being out of office isn't necessarily a handicap when running for president, as it allows you to lavish time and attention on Iowa, New Hampshire and the like while building a staff and constructing policy positions full time.

Seen through the 2012-only lens, Pawlenty's current position looks more like a win-win.

Assuming he doesn't plan to run for reelection, Pawlenty can refuse to sign the election certificate for Franken -- if Coleman wants to take the legal fight federal -- and continue to raise his national profile by arguing (in his low key, inoffensive way) on a variety of televisions outlets that he is simply trying to ensure no legitimate votes are left uncounted, a GREAT issue for him in the eyes of GOP base voters.

And, if Coleman ends his appeal after if he loses at the state Supreme Court level, Pawlenty has seen his national profile raised as a defender of voters' rights without any serious backlash in the state.

"It's a net positive for him, especially nationally," said one senior Republican strategist. "He has a solid position: He has consistently said he wants to see the legal process completely played out to ensure no voter is disenfranchised and the actual winner is sent to DC."

To this point, Pawlenty has nicely played out a tricky political situation to his benefit, a deftness that speaks well of his potential as a national candidate in 2012.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 9, 2009; 11:40 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012 , Governors  
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I thought T-Paw might have something to do with the pending First Dog!

Posted by: newbeeboy | April 10, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Remember Al Gore in 2000? Had he taken Coleman's tack, and consistantly held up the Florida process, he would have been President, because George needed every Florida elector to get his landslide, and the provisions for electing a President says that it is the majority of electoral ballots cast that elect the President. Pragmatically, at this point Coleman would need 68% of the rest of the 1300 votes that are currently supposedly the point of contention. (Franken got an 85 vote plurality, widening his lead. Noe Coleman needs even more votes to catch up, plus a majority of the remainder. He has no realistic hope to find a majority UNLESS he gets to demand that the only votes that get counted from here on out are votes already known to be for him) Morally it is obvious that he lost the election. BUT, since no question is ever over until the republican side wins, he has his Party Pragmatik to fall back on. AND he gets to obstruct the business of the country by holding one Democratic vote in the Senate hostage to his petulance. were I running against Pawlenty in any future contest, I would remind the people that he could have pressured Coleman some time ago to give up his losing effort, but did not do so because that would have given the Dems that one more vote in the Senate.

Pawlenty isn't a good bet for a third term, and he is a dark horse and getting darker now, and in 2012 a very toxic pale horse to remind the electorate of just how close to the apocalypse the Republicans brought us these last eight years.

P and P and S and J and the rest of the many midgets that constitute the current field being dissed about as Presidential Timber have all the value of BINGO tokens, holding places and taking up space until somebody else BINGO's.

Jesse Ventura has a better shot at running second behind Obama in 2012 than any of these pretenders.

Posted by: ceflynline | April 9, 2009 9:40 PM | Report abuse

"While of course there is no provision for holding another election, it could be done if all sides wanted it, with the agreement both camps would honor the final tally on election night."

That's a HUGE "if". There's no way that Franken agrees to another election. Look at that through whatever partisan lenses you want, but that would just be stupid.

Posted by: DDAWD | April 9, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Hey Claudia, I wanted to ask you what you thought of your Governor since you reside in NY? Seems like he's not popular even with a lot dems.
You do not need to raise taxes for a 1 time deal. both the RNC & DNC could pitch in to pay for it and their probably are couple of rich people(if they allhaven't departed for the caymans)who would be willing to pay for it.

Posted by: vbhoomes | April 9, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

bhoomes -- would you be willing to have your taxes raised to pay for a new election? They're quite costly you know, and someone has to pay.

Posted by: drindl | April 9, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

There were three people on the Republican side who didn't have jobs and ran for the nomination. Fred Thompson doesn't count, he was drafted, it was never planned. Romney had wealth, lots of wealth to build a campaign from. Huckabee had a personality and captured the hearts of the evangelical base. His only opponent for that base was the less than inspiring Sam Brownback. The third candidate was Tommy Thompson. He had been governor of Wisconsin and Secretary of Health & Human Services. In Wisconsin he was essentially governor for life, until W plucked him for the cabinet. His welfare reform in Wisconsin was the template the Republicans and Clinton used for federal reform. His school voucher program is the template for all others (embraced by Republicans and blacks.) His farewell address from HHS warned about the unsecured nature of our food supplies. This speech was followed by tainted dog food, lead toys and tainted Chinese seafood. Tommy T was the resume candidate, sort of like Richardson on the Dem side. My point is that if a well liked, over-qualified, future-predicting, unemployed, uninspiring Republican with no money can get no traction, what hope is there for an uninspiring, not very well qualified, unlikely to win reelection, unemployed, poor Republican? He has no shot at an insurgency candidacy and he has no shot at an establishment candidacy. TPAW's only shot is to run as a real live governor.

Posted by: caribis | April 9, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

"While of course there is no provision for holding another election, it could be done if all sides wanted it, with the agreement both camps would honor the final tally on election night."

I don't specialize in election law (or any law, for that matter), but I don't think that's true. The rules for deciding elections are fairly clear. Again, there is not a provision for two of the candidates to arbitrarily pick a new way to determine a winner.

Where there is some wiggle room, is in when Gov Pawlenty (and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie) sign the certificate of election. SoS Ritchie has stated that he will sign when the 3 judge panel issues its final ruling. Gov Pawlenty has implied that he will wait for all appeals to run their course. Where Gov Pawlenty may be creatively interpreting the law is in the definition of the election being complete. The MN Supremes have implied that they, like SoS Ritchie, think the 3 judge panel is the final arbiter of the election. The Coleman campaign has promised to appeal to the MN Supremes, and potentially to try again in Fed court.

Should SoS Ritchie sign the certificate in the next week or two, Pawlenty will come under more pressure to do the same.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 9, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

OK -- so Pawlenty should base his signature not on the basis of law . . . but, soley on the basis of his aspirations for political office.

Yuppers, Pawlenty is a typical neocon Republican . . . personal political power takes precedence over the will of the majority of the people.

Can the Republicans be any more venal?

Posted by: Continuum | April 9, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

What I meant BSIMON is TPAW should not consider any personal calucations on how this may play out politically. I haven't read the Mn. state constitution but I do not believe he has to certify Franken as the winner as long as this is tied up in the courts. While of course there is no provision for holding another election, it could be done if all sides wanted it, with the agreement both camps would honor the final tally on election night.

Posted by: vbhoomes | April 9, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse


Correct. What I should have added is that while this would not solve the current dilemma, he could certify the election with this proposal, thus blunting criticism from those who might say he simply gave in without offering a cure.

Now can you get your "buddies" to stop hacking my Kos account? I know you don't like fascism any more than I do, right?

Posted by: scrivener50 | April 9, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

"Pawlenty could try this: Offer a Solomon-like solution by advocating a state law requiring a run-off election in the event that the margin of victory is less than one percent of the total votes cast.

That's a reasonable solution that all states should consider. I believe it would pass constitutional muster, since it would apply to all statewide elections."

This is what happened in Georgia. I like this solution better than recounts. That being said, you don't change the rules in the middle of the election.

Posted by: DDAWD | April 9, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Addendum to Scrivener's post, below:

My DailyKos essay on apparent fusion center harassment and censorship of telecommunications remains posted...

...but now the "tags" section carries the words, "banned user." I don't think DailyKos did this. It appears to be a "hack."

And all of the links required to post commentary, to respond to comments, or to edit, still are disabled on my connection.

Since I cannot communicate with DailyKos, could someone here please email Markos and attach my post, below?

You won't just be helping me -- you'll be helping to combat what appears to be draconian censorship and malicious interference with telecommunications by "rogue elements."

Thank so much.



(Many thanks to Chris for his forebearance!)

Posted by: scrivener50 | April 9, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

"TPAW ought just be guided by what he believes to be in the best interest of his state. The problem with the race it was a tie for all intents and purposes. Redoing the election should at least be considered as an alternative."

No, Governor Pawlenty should be guided by the law. His beliefs are irrelevant.

A 'redo' election is not a provision within the law, and therefore is out of consideration for the election on Nov 4, 2008. It is likely that the legislature will review how such close elections will be handled in the future, but whatever they do will not have an impact on this case.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 9, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Pawlenty could try this: Offer a Solomon-like solution by advocating a state law requiring a run-off election in the event that the margin of victory is less than one percent of the total votes cast.

That's a reasonable solution that all states should consider. I believe it would pass constitutional muster, since it would apply to all statewide elections.


cc: Atty. Gen. Eric Holder

(staff, please forward)

Sec. Napolitano:

After writing a commentary about apparent censorship and malicious interference by "fusion center" operatives, all the links allowing me to post to have disappeared from display on my computer.

I have been shut down from posting to, where I use the handle, "aviben."

I believe this is in direct retaliation for the post that began with these sentences:

** Gov't 'Fusion Center' Spying: Pretext to Harass and Censor? **

• Government surveillance programs apparently are not just for spying.

• Regional "fusion centers" administered by the Department of Homeland Security appear to use surveillance as a pretext...

...for psychological harassment, control over individual telecommunications accounts... and prior restraint and/or censorship of political speech and personal internet telecommunications.

• ACLU: Sue the government on THESE grounds -- which cannot be excused under any reasonable interpretation of the Patriot Act.

Sec. Napolitano, this is the United States of America, and not Nazi Germany. There is no possible justification for this apparent draconian censorship and malicious interference with my constitutionally-protected rights.

Could you please pick up the phone and tell your fusion center in Newtown, PA to stop interfering with my telecommunications?

Thank you.




Posted by: scrivener50 | April 9, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

TPAW ought just be guided by what he believes to be in the best interest of his state. The problem with the race it was a tie for all intents and purposes. Redoing the election should at least be considered as an alternative.

Posted by: vbhoomes | April 9, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Chris, I agree that Pawlenty is a canny, seemingly mild-mannered politician, but don't you thing that--while the Republican base may be pleased by his neutral-for-Coleman stance--if he DOES run for President in 2012, he'll be kissing about 90% of the all-important independant voters' vote good-bye by following his current course of action?

If he's as shrewd as he appears, he'll contact Coleman privately with some sort of backroom deal; i.e., 'Norm, concede at the state level and drop any thought of a Federal appeal and I promise I'll endorse your run for governor', etc.

How likely do you think that scenario might be?

Posted by: sverigegrabb | April 9, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I guess the question is whether Pwlenty follows the law or not. Mr. Cillizza treats this as if were simply a matter of choice. But it's the LAW. The question is, do conservatives beleive in laws anymore? It sure doesn't look like it.

Posted by: drindl | April 9, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Not sure Pawlenty is presidential or VP material. He's not the most inspiring speaker and probably would have difficulty winning re-election in MN.

I think Pawlenty would end up like Romney (to use your example)if he decided not to run again. Plenty of time to run for president (while getting nowhere in the process.)

Posted by: RickJ | April 9, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

By 2012 whatever he does about the election certificate will be old news. It would help with the base, but not enough to overcome the fundraising prowess, enthusiasm for and/or charisma of people like Romney, Huckabee, Palin and Gingrich.

If he wishes to run for reelection in 2010, he has to sign the certificate to seat Franken sooner, rather than later. If he keeps up the fight, call it an early indicator of his decision not to seek reelection.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 9, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Okay, and if he does that, moderates like me who would have otherwise considered voting for him are going to vote for someone who actually cares about representative democracy rather than trying to score points on partisan grounds.

Pawlenty is one of just three or four Republicans I can see myself supporting against President Obama in 2012. But if he goes for the base pander by encouraging Norm Coleman to continue this childish and selfish Appeal to Nowhere, I'm left with just Charlie Crist, Jon Huntsman, Jr., and Ron Paul as non-Obama options.

Posted by: markdmiller2 | April 9, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Governor Pawlenty has an uncanny knack for getting nothing done while maintaining reasonable approval ratings. He's certainly a likeable fellow, and explains his position calmly and reasonably. Compare that to his 2006 opponent, former AG Mike Hatch, about whom an article has not been written without including the phrase 'hot headed'.

Back to his tenure as Governor, in a somewhat remarkable series of policy initiatives and battles with the MN DFLers, Minnesota still faces the same systemic budget problems today that we faced in 2002, when Gov Pawlenty was first elected. He has managed to get almost nothing done, while maintaining high enough approval ratings to win election and become a popular go-to guest for national newsmagazines looking for a Republican guest.

I suspect his most promising career move is to follow the Tommy Thomson path: make a token effort at becoming a national figure, then hope for a cabinet post if your party wins the nomination. He's also probably still on the shortlist for the sidekick job, but will likely end up as the bridesmaid again, rather than the bride to the nominee in 2012.

The basic problem Pawlenty faces is this: while he's likeable, he's not inspiring. While winning the Governorship of MN twice, he doesn't really have a record to point to and say "Look at what I accomplished." In short, he lacks that certain something that successful presidential nominees have.

Posted by: bsimon1 | April 9, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I don't see how the Federal Courts would have any say in this sitution. One would think, legally, that the end of the road is the MNSC.

Posted by: VTDuffman | April 9, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I can't see how this issue could possibly be a winner on the national stage. The democrats attack machine has been playing the "party of no" line relentlessly. What plays into that storyline more then dragging your feet on seating the man who won the election? What is the use of rallying the base in the primary if you are going to disgust general election voters by turning yourself into the worst stereotype possible?

Maybe a friendly smile can make T-Paw's line palatable to Minnesota voters. Minnesota politics is rather exceptional from what I hear. But I do not envy the spokesman for this cause if it's being covered in national politics.

Posted by: theamazingjex | April 9, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I'd have called it the other way, Chris.

Tim P may not have to worry too much about Minnesota Democrats if he doesn't run in 2010, but he risks alienating Democrats and independants nationwide if he allows the farce to continue.

If he certifies Franken, then Coleman can still go to the USSC if he wants; meanwhile MN gets another Senator. Refusing to certify Franken (on what grounds?) might help him get the nomination in 2012, but not the White House.

Posted by: mikeinmidland | April 9, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

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