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Pawlenty plays warm-up comedian, attack dog, blue-collar man, Romney surrogate

The one-time presidential candidate and two-time vice presidential hopeful took on four roles in RNC speech.

Tim Pawlenty has been a top surrogate for Romney since September, less than a month after he dropped his own campaign for president.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination Wednesday night, giving a speech split between his work as head of the House Budget Committee and the personal backstory that made the man and would-be vice president. 

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was his warm-up act.

The one-time presidential candidate and two-time vice presidential hopeful played four roles on Wednesday night: warm-up comedian, attack dog, blue-collar man of the people and Mitt Romney surrogate. He unleashed a barrage of zingers about President Obama during his 10-minute speech, delivering a string of humorous one-offs that drew good-natured guffaws from the RNC attendees. Toward the end, when the speech had more substance, Pawlenty told his personal story and gave a whole-hearted endorsement of the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket.


But first came the comedy. Some of the highlights:

  • He called the RNC Obama’s “retirement party.”
  • He referred to Vice President Joe Biden in a list of Obama mistakes, alongside: “the stimulus. His energy policy. Obamacare. Taxes.” Taken together, Obama “is the tattoo president. Like a big tattoo, it seemed cool when we were young. But later on, that decision doesn’t look so good, and you wonder: What was I thinking? But the worst part is you’re still going to have to explain it to your kids.”
  • He said Obama has created jobs, but only for “golf caddies.” Making a nod to fellow Minnesotan and Food Network star Andrew Zimmern: “The president takes more vacations than that guy on the Bizarre Foods show.”
  • In the end, “Barack Obama’s failed us. But look, it’s understandable. A lot of people fail at their first job.”

The speech had the convention hall alternatively chuckling and cheering. The humor was hokey but with a message, one other speakers have used to win cheers and one epitomizing the line Republicans will employ against the president over the next two months: Obama has tried to improve the economy, but rather than stop the bleeding from the Great Recession, his policies have saddled the country with more debt, fewer opportunities for the middle class and the promise of higher taxes and an atmosphere hostile toward businesses and job creators.

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After Pawlenty’s stand-up, his speech had the gravitas of a man who cut his teeth on the presidential campaign trail: he showcased his blue-collar upbringing in South St. Paul and highlighted the personal tales of the voters he courted during his brief presidential run last summer.

“Can they pay the mortgage? Will they have enough money to buy groceries, or gas for the car? Will they be able to get their kids into college or pay the tuition?” he said. “But jobs don’t come from politicians. They come from the entrepreneurs, the inventors, the innovators and the risk-takers.”

The candidate those voters should look toward: Mitt Romney.

Top surrogate

Pawlenty has been a top surrogate for Romney since September, less than a month after he dropped his own campaign for president. Long gone has been Pawlenty’s short-lived attack on Romney, that the Republican nominee’s health-care reform measures instituted in Massachusetts inspired Obama’s Affordable Care Act so much that it should be called “Obamneycare.”

Instead: “We have the best candidate. This isn’t [Romney’s] first job, or the first time he’s been a leader who has produced results. He’s made a success of failing companies. He made a success of the Olympics. He even made government in Massachusetts more effective and efficient. And now he’s ready to help get America back on track and Americans back to work.”

Pawlenty was considered a member of Romney’s vice presidential short-list, but lost out to Ryan, a policy wonk who has spearheaded House Republicans’ efforts to cut the federal budget and reform entitlement programs. Ryan’s speech was part-autobiography, part-pep rally for the Republicans in the audience who will make the case that they have the best plan for reforming the Medicare program — the one proposed by Ryan himself. On paper, it’s a tough task: Democrats have made hay of down-ticket Republicans’ support of the Ryan plan, and on the biggest stage of his life, Ryan’s goal was to defend it.

Pawlenty had no such lofty goals. He told some jokes, won some cheers and made the case for his presidential candidate — and he had a message for the man whose job he most recently looked to take.

“I hear Joe [Biden]’s particularly interested in tonight’s proceedings,” he said. “He’s taking notes, because when Paul Ryan speaks, Joe will finally get to hear what a real vice president sounds like.”