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Tim Pawlenty loves God, his wife and kids, the troops and Minnesotans

Pardon the snotty headline. I've just come from Gov. Tim Pawlenty's big, jammed, Capitol press conference. (I assume you know the main news by now: He won't seek a third term. He won't say anything about a possible run for president -- "Not ruling anything in or out. I don't have any plans.")

And, in case you missed it, within minutes of the press conference, House Republican leader Marty Seifert announced that he will run for governor, with an official announcement on that score Wednesday morning.)

And I really don't mean to be snotty at all. I come away, as usual after watching and listening to TPaw, very impressed with his political talent. I am not talking about his no-new-taxes obsession nor his social conservatism. I'm talking about pure political talent. I still think John McCain should have put him on the ticket last year. Today, he wouldn't even acknowledge that he might run for president, but if he does -- and the odds are he will -- he will start out behind many of his rivals in money and name recognition, but well ahead in two other important political ingredients: likeability and authenticity.


Plenty of politicians could benefit from studying the tape of just this uneventful press conference. (It would have been eventful if Pawlenty had not allowed members of his circle to leak the big news in advance.)

He started out with a joke and double sports reference. (The joke was that given the chaos created by the Brett Favre situation, he was issuing an executive order requiring Twins catcher Joe Mauer to also play quarterback for the Vikings. Before he was done, he would also make charming, self-deprecating references to his own participation in hockey games and marathons.

Then, to complete the sports reference portion of his I'm-really-a-regular-guy routine, when asked if he would be satisfied if his two terms as governor marked the end of his political career, he remarked that by becoming governor, he had "already outpunted my coverage by so much as it is." If you're not football savvy enough to get that one, it's simultaneously humble and regular Joe the Plumber-ish.)

One of the many ways that Pawlenty deflected the do-you-want-to-be-president theme of reporters' questions was to say that his dream remained to play defenseman in the National Hockey League, but "at age 48 and having no skill," this was perhaps not going to happen.

I wasn't kidding in the headline. Pawlenty did, explicitly and by name (if name is the word I want here) thank God for his many blessings. (He also sprinkled in a few biblical quotations. He moved on to his wife and kids who stood beside him, pretty and beaming throughout. He paid homage to the troops (the troops came up several times). He sang the praises of Minnesota (a "special, jaw-droppingly amazing" state inhabited by "kind, generous, wise, hard-working, wonderful" people. Seriously, these are direct quotes.)

His message to his party went like this:

"We're a party of the marketplace, and the marketplace is signaling movement to our competitors ... We've gotta be the party that can accommodate both Colin Powell and Rush Limbaugh. Not either/or. Both."

He has no particular plans to organize an exploratory campaign committee but "as time and circumstances allow," he will try to "lend voice" to "the need to raise issues and ideas for my party here, and elsewhere if I'm asked, because I think we need new ideas and new faces in the party." (Hint, hint.)

The assembled reporters tried to ask him tough questions. He deflected them with smooth, effortless good humor. He said nothing that could possibly distract from his main message, but seemed -- and this is a skill many politicians lack -- to be genuinely addressing the questions. This a serious, major political gift, to be able to stay on-message without seeming robotic, without getting peevish over reporters' efforts to get you to say something other than what you want to say, and without leaving much opening for criticism, except, of course, on substance.

If you are a liberal and are familiar with Pawlenty's record, you may think that substance is his Achilles' heel. You see it as a record, especially coming out of the recent session, of preferring to cut essential services for needy people and important public services to spare the wealthy a modest tax increase. And it is, as Dems frame these issues.

But you are kidding yourself if you think Pawlenty cannot reframe that message. Tuesday's version of that reframing went like this. We can't live in the past, when Minnesota and the USA had all the revenue it needed to keep expanding services. Those times are past. Times are tough all across the economy. "Most Minnesotans and most Americans" are making do with less, but certain government agencies and localities seem to think that they should not have to figure out how to "live for a little while on 96 or 97 percent of what they used to have."

With a specific reference to higher education's loud complaints about cuts they will be getting from Pawlenty: "We need leaders and visionaries who are change agents, not whiners and complainers and defenders of the status quo."

A couple of other items of possible interest from the press conference:

On the issuance of an election certificate in the Senate race, Pawlenty said that some analysts have "really overbaked that issue ... I'm gonna do whatever the court says ... As soon as I'm required to issue or sign that certificate, I will. I'm not gonna hold it up or delay at all." (Not to overbake again, but if the state Supreme Court decides that Franken got the most votes but doesn't explicitly order Pawlenty to issue the certificate by a particular deadline, that statement doesn't quite commit him to do anything in any particular time frame.)
 
When asked for regrets from his tenure as governor, he talked about pushing too hard for his side at the end of the 2003 legislative session: "We ran the table pretty hard on Democrats. And I think there's a lot bitterness because of that. If I had that to do over again, I think I would have allowed a little more room for mutual victory, because I think they were so angered and bitter, they never quite got over that. We have a more difficult environment as a result of that. So I think I would have let up on the accelerator a little bit if I had that to do over again."

Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau (who, so far as I know, was not considered a leading candidate for future office) stepped up briefly and said that it was "highly unlikely" that she would run for governor."

First lady (and former judge) Mary Pawlenty also dismissed any notion that she would run for governor.

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Comments (19)

Hooray for Tim!! He really is slick and knows how to frame an issue or a question so the real truth gets kicked to the curb. It's so refreshing to hear Tim talk about the Troops too and what a patriot he his. Too bad he's too old to join up and show us what he's really made of. He's kinda like W. who couldn't find his way back to his Guard unit for 2 years and then Rather gets skewered by CBS for exposing it. Tim is not far off the mark from W. A couple of phony Patriots who love to stick it to the middle-class and their families while doling out more and more wealth to the people who need it least! I can hardly wait for the Tim, Sarah, Bobby and Mitt show in 2012. Not a one of them can hold a candle to the Vets I know.

I don't suppose there's any way he'd consider resigning early?

Americans used to be proud of their can-do spirit. I wonder how successful Tim will be peddling his message that we can no longer afford the best education in the world, maintain our infrastructure, clean up our environment, take care of our needy, provide decent health care to all, etc.

Eric, if you think Pawlenty is likeable and authentic then you're part of the problem.

On the authenticity front, Pawlenty is as phony as a 3-dollar bill and what really does he stand for other than himself? What program has he championed because he thought it was the right thing to do even though it might hurt him politically? I don't recall him going out on a limb for anything unless he thought it would raise his national profile.

The media has really failed Minnesota when it comes to Pawlenty. Pawlenty returns calls from journalists and flatters them skillfully. So, we keep hearing from you folks about how likeable and authentic he is.

Or maybe Pawlenty seems authentic to you because he makes allusions to sports, and everybody likes sports, right? Would a politician necessarily be less authentic if he/she made allusions to literature or the arts if that weren't your thing.

And when it comes to likeability, it's a whole lot easier to find Pawlenty likeable if you aren't a member of an unpopular minority whose votes or approval he doesn't need. He needs the help of journalists so he's very careful to stay on your good side. But if you're gay or lesbian, native American, or a sex offender, you've been the target of his campaigns to stir up hatred against you more than once. What's so likeable about that?

It's always bugged me, this reference to the likability of Pawlenty. The guys launched an unprecedented assault on the weakest and more defenseless people in Minnesota. His policies have killed people and inflicted pain and suffering. We got a word for people like Pawlenty where I come from, and it ain't "likeable".

Pawlenty's brand of political talent only gets you so far. Remember, this is a guy who won with 44 and 46 percent of the vote in his two races for governor. If Mike Hatch had been able to control his temper for a few more days, Pawlenty would be finished now.

Mr. Pawlenty is following W's "prosperity gospel" path, conflating mammon and christianity. Catering only to the 500 wealthiest families and the administrators of the largest evangelical churches, his eyes are fixed firmly on the prize of higher office. As with Norm Coleman and W, the posture required renders him completely unable to do anything useful.

Minimizing income taxes, allowing property taxes to skyrocket, destroying our government's ability to accomplish or control anything. All this fits the goals of the overly wealthy inheriting class and the owners of the mega-churches just fine. Leaves the rest of us in the ditch, though.

The governor is likable and has the appearance at least of authenticity which is in itself ironic. There is little point in denying that. I think some DFL politicians should consider that along with the price they pay for not being likable.

I've always been amazed at the Governor's ability to come across as a regular guy even when he's shoving in the knife. Perhaps I shouldn't be, since those on the receiving end of the blade are usually those for whom his target audience shows disdain (the poor, the sick, immigrants, hippies, etc.). And as Ambrose(#3) states, he has very Minnesota press-friendly qualities: He plays hockey! He has a mullet! His pretty wife's a judge!

I also think that McCain made a mistake in not putting the Governor on the ticket. I think his brand of "Aw-Shucksterism" would have played very well with moderate voters. That being said, his being passed over could make for a great ad in 2012:

"In 2000, Tim Pawlenty bowed out of the U.S. Senate race at the request of Dick Cheney so that Norm Coleman could run. In 2008 John McCain thought Sarah Palin was more qualified for the Office of Vice President. If Republicans don't even want Tim Pawlenty running for national office, why should the rest of us?"

The governor is "likeable." What does that mean? That you like him? That >40% of voters like him?

We never hear much about the people who loathe the governor or about how many of those people there are - probably because the loathers aren't "newsmakers" or if they are, they have to work with the governor and need to keep their loathing under wraps.

@Ambrose(#10)

Ambrose,
Personally, I think his "likability" refers to his ability to seem like a "regular Minnesotan", i.e. somebody who fishes, plays hockey and goes to church on Sunday, not whether or not he's really someone friendly, kind, or generous, all qualities I would attribute to someone I considered likable. I wouldn't know if the governor is any of those things, I've never met the man.

I think you're right in that we don't hear from the loathers either because they're not newsmakers (i.e. they're poor, immigrants, hippies, etc.) or they're DFL politicians who don't want to seem like they're being mean. After all, we're all civil here in Minnesota, right?

Also, I miffed the date on the senate election in my previous post (#9). Should have been 2002. Oops.

If I may interrupt this spittle fest for a minute, I'd like to point out that when one takes a look around the rest of the country, it is apparent that Minnesota is in excellent shape.

For a picture of what happens when Democrats are allowed to spend rampantly, let us look at that bastion of progressive leadership...California.

Because he was unable, or unwilling to step in between the Democrat majority in the legislature and the state’s check book, Governor Schwarzenegger is now in the position of having to announce that unless something is done within 15 days, the state will run out of money. “The day of reckoning is here”.

Unsurprisingly, that is the same message he was forced to bring last winter.

Because they were allowed to have their way, the Democrats in California are now responsible for tens of thousands of lost jobs; HUGE cuts to education and social programs.

California is a crumbling disaster.

Contrast their plight with the meager 3% cut that is eliciting all of this loathing and hate among our local members of the party of tolerance and caring. What the heck is wrong with you people?

Thanks to Tim Pawlenty’s calm, measured leadership, Minnesota’s belt tightening will be virtually unnoticed; despite the DFL’s specious sky is falling mantra.

The lights will stay on; roads will be repaired; teachers will teach; fires will be fought and police will catch crooks….in California? All bets are off.

Thank you Governor Pawlenty, for your hard work and dedication to the people of the state of Minnesota.

Thomas: The DEMOCRATS caused California's problems by "getting their way?" Correction: Their governor has done the same darn thing our Tim did -- refuse, absolutely refuse, to raise enough revenue to meet the real needs and expenses of his state's citizens. He is now saying that it is up to the legislature to fix the problem and his Republican supporters created.

I urge everyone to be alert to the frequent references to Pawlenty as "Minnesota's popular young governor" in the national media and to write them with corrective information.

Mr. Black, interesting article with interesting follow up comments. Do you or anyone think Pawlenty was trying for a legacy with a new state park which is pretty much on the losing side of a limbo contest? We know what he is like with the press probably an A performer. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall and see what he is like in negotiations, probably very adept except with his major contributors.

Thanks for all the excellent comments.

Just to clarify, when I call Gov. Pawlenty likeable and authentic, I speak essentially as a political analyst. I don't "like" him personally because I don't have a personal relationship with him. I mean that as a performer on the public stage, he projects likeability. Similarly, I have no idea whether he is sincere or phony in his personal relationships. I use the term "authenticity" to describe a quality comes across as genuine, like he means what he says and is comfortable in his skin. In short, I mean he creates a perception of likeability and authenticity. I believe these to be major assets in a politician.
cheers,

With the number of liberal, TPaw-hating commenters on this post in the double digits, do we need any more evidence that MinnPost is just Minnesota version of the far-left Daily Kos? At least Eric, a liberal himself, wrote a relatively well-balanced commentary.

TPaw never won a majority in his races for governor. Tough to do when it's a three- or four-person race. And Bill Clinton never won a majority, either. Big whoop. Get over it.

Hmmm, who is another winning politician who is "likable" but angers a lot of people with his policies? Oh, yeah, some guy named Barack Obama. Check out the recent polls. Obama is popular, while his policies are not. Have you seen the Gitmo polls from this week?

TPaw and BO are opposites in regards to policies, but they both have very high likability factors, and that goes a long ways in politics. People "buy" from people they like.

I suspect President Obama will win reelection in 2012. But by 2016, when the cost of some of his programs is becoming clear to the electorate, Pawlenty's consistently frugal record will look quite attractive. His low key delivery and softspoken demeanor (part of the authenticity that Eric mentions) will also play well. He will be seen (correctly) as someone who consistently fought tax and spending increases.

Mr. Black,

//Just to clarify, when I call Gov. Pawlenty likeable and authentic, I speak essentially as a political analyst. I don't "like" him personally because I don't have a personal relationship with him.

Fair enough. Here's the thing: I've seen Pawlenty in person, (I've covered events as a photographer) and elsewhere, and I've watched him perform as governor the past 6 years, and he's always come across as a smarmy jerk to me. So how much of his "likability" is a media creation? Since the guy got into office the media by and large have been referring to him as "likable". Do you people not realize the extent to which that helps shape public perception? Your political analysis becomes self confirming, he's likable because you say he's likable and you say he's likable because he's likable. Do you not understand how that constant reference over the years has obscured his actions as governor?

My question to you, as an analyst, is: "Just exactly what is it that makes Pawlenty so 'likable'?" Why is he more "likable" than Arne Carlson for instance? How did this adjective end up being assigned to a stealth extremist who's spent his entire time in office assaulting the people of MN and dismantling state government?

In other words when I complain about this constant use of the term "likable" I'm also speaking as a political analyst. I've never thought he projected that quality and I'm left wondering how this "consensus" developed? And to the extent that this consensus obscures his actual performance as governor I find it irksome.

Follow up to previous,

As far as I can tell Pawlenty's even less authentic than he is likable. He lies about deficits and surpluses, he obscures his real agenda, and at the end of the day he's really a quite mean spirited guy. He never ran on a platform of creating deficits and budget crises and then using those deficits as an excuse to stomp Minnesotan's. He ran a fiscal responsibility platform, promising better government for less money. He talks about excellence but he promotes mediocrity.