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Veepstakes: Pawlenty Aims to Raise Profile Within GOP

Publicly, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) demurs when asked about his interest in serving as John McCain's running-mate. Privately, however, Pawlenty is doing all the right things to make sure he keeps his name in the mix as spring turns to summer.

Tim Pawlenty
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty addresses delegates at the Republican state convention May 31 in Rochester, Minn. (AP Photo via Star Tribune)

Last week, Pawlenty traveled to North Carolina to raise money for two congressmen -- Reps. Robin Hayes and Patrick McHenry.

Yesterday, Pawlenty keynoted a Republican Governors Association event in Atlanta -- one of six GOP governors speaking to a group of well-heeled donors that included the CEOs of UPS, Siemens and Southern Company. His topic was how the party can "pursue environmentally responsible ways to grow business," according to one attendee. The event collected more than $700,000 for the RGA.

More potential McCain VP picks were also in attendance: Govs. Charlie Crist (Fla.) and Mark Sanford (S.C) , John Hoeven (N.D.) and Sonny Perdue (Ga.). (An interesting sidenote: Crist and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour spent Tuesday at two RGA fundraising events in Florida.)

Later this month, Pawlenty will travel to Connecticut to headline the 30th annual Prescott Bush Awards Dinner -- a gathering that lured plenty of GOP bigwigs as speakers in the past. (Pawlenty got a rough bit of local press recently when the Hartford Courant -- The Fix's hometown paper! -- revisited his ill-considered comments about his sex life.)

Pawlenty remains one of the most viable picks for McCain. He hails from a midwestern swing state where he has won two statewide elections, and he is generally liked by the fiscal and social conservative wings of the party.

Pawlenty's biggest problem in the veepstakes is that he remains something of a regional figure, not widely known even in Republican circles outside of his home state. His activities over the last few weeks is a recognition by Pawlenty that he needs to raise his profile with major donors and grassroots party activists.

Buzz is not the only factor on which a presidential candidate chooses a running-mate, but it surely matters. Picking the "hot" guy or gal who has the grassroots and/or donor world buzzing helps drive excitement and, as importantly, money to the national ticket.

Making the finals of the veepstakes means playing the game on any number of different levels -- both in terms of policy and political calculations. Pawlenty is showing he knows how to play the three-dimensional chess game that is the vice presidential picking process.

Phil Musser, a former executive director at the RGA and now a GOP media consultant, argued that whether or not Pawlenty is picked, the Minnesota governor is doing the right thing with his increased level of activity.

"For Pawlenty, the enduring legacy of this year's veepstakes -- whether he gets it or not -- will be that many more national Republicans have been exposed to what is obviously real talent and someone to watch now and in the future," said Musser.

For more on the veepstakes, make sure to check this space tomorrow for the Friday presidential Line. And, for more on Pawlenty, check out this interview we did with him earlier in the spring.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 5, 2008; 2:02 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , Veepstakes  
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