WASHINGTON — Since dropping his own presidential bid and endorsing that of Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has become one of the presumptive Republican nominee’s favorite campaign surrogates — so much so that he’s jumped to the top of many Romney advisers’ vice presidential short lists, according to Politico.
After a day of conflicting reports about who, exactly, the Romney campaign was and wasn’t vetting for the number two spot on his ticket, both Politico and the Washington Post made clear that Pawlenty has again worked his way into contention for the job he nearly got fours ago with John McCain.
Pawlenty’s campaign ended after a poor finish in August’s Iowa straw poll, for which he campaigned extensively. Former Pawlenty advisers say it was a bad strategy, conceived by a team of strategists he has since left behind. He’s now a top surrogate for Romney, and Politico notes, “Pawlenty is better now than he was on his own campaign, when he got over-programmed with too much advice and lost the refreshing authenticity that now is his calling card.”
Why, exactly, is Romney taking a close look at Pawlenty? According to Politico:
— There is a universal view that Romney will not take a risk, or anything approximating one. ABC’s Jonathan Karl first reported that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) isn’t being vetted by Myers. This echoes POLITICO’s earlier reporting that Romney aides think his Florida past is too freighted with controversy, even if it’s overblown.
“They’re getting more and more risk-averse because they’re doing better and better,” said a Republican in Washington who talks daily with top campaign officials.
Romney on Tuesday insisted that Rubio is in fact being “thoroughly vetted” for the veep spot, though that was being viewed less as a boost to Rubio’s chances of being picked and more as a recognition that the no-vetting story was hurting Romney, by making it seem like he was snubbing a popular Hispanic lawmaker.
— Romney advisers think boring isn’t bad — but too boring might be. Some Romney confidants think Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a favorite of the Washington establishment, falls into this category. There is chatter he might make a better White House chief of staff — not a great sign for his chances as vice presidential nominee.
— Romney is also looking closely at personal chemistry. This is also a big reason why House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is getting a very serious look. Romney and Ryan continue to hit it off personally, a big plus for the rising Wisconsin star.
— Loyalty matters. The one Republican who meets all of these litmus tests, and more, is Pawlenty, who could run with Romney as a pair of Washington outsiders.
Should Pawlenty get on to the ticket, he should help Romney with target audiences he’s struggled to win over as of yet, among them working class voters and evangelical Christians uncomfortable with Romney’s Mormon faith.
But outside polling suggests he’ll struggle with one constituency: Minnesotans. Even with Pawlenty on the ticket, President Obama still holds a sizable lead over Romney in Minnesota.
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com.