Tim Pawlenty may have a problem with the Christian right: He’s too nice and might not have enough of that old-time evangelical fervor, writes McKay Coppins in the Daily Beast.
The former Minnesota governor’s problem, he says:
Pawlenty comes off like a Good Samaritan at a time when the religious right wants fire and brimstone.
He notes that Pawlenty did get some political buzz recently:
[W]hen it was announced that Sarah Huckabee — yes, that Huckabee, Mike’s daughter — would join his campaign in Iowa, presumably to help promote him to the evangelical community. The hire came after Pawlenty’s months-long campaign to court local churchgoers fell flat, leaving room for right-wing firebrand Michele Bachmann, a fellow evangelical, to jump in the race. With Bachmann now surging, Pawlenty, who converted from Catholicism while dating his eventual wife, Mary, is making a last-ditch grab for the support of his co-religionists.
Coppins says Pawlenty has much in common with his longtime minister, the Rev. Leith Anderson of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, and quotes Sarah Pulliam Bailey, a political reporter for leading evangelical magazine Christianity Today:
“[Anderson’s] not someone who’s going to lead a march to Washington; he kind of does his work behind the scenes, building consensus.”
If that sounds like it could double as a description of Pawlenty, that’s because it could, says Bailey. “They both have a very calming, not a very combative style,” she says. “They hold beliefs but they don’t like to cram them down everyone’s throats; they don’t feel comfortable attacking other people.”
Coppins interviewed Anderson, who said: “Governor Pawlenty comes across as a nice guy because he is a nice guy.”
That might not work, Coppins said:
Trouble is, in this race the nice guys run a serious risk of finishing last. What’s more, Pawlenty’s relationship with Anderson could actually harm his chances at winning over the religious right. The powerful minister’s unspoken support has likely endeared the candidate to the evangelical elite: Pawlenty recently topped an NAE survey of church leaders who were asked to identify their preferred candidate. But at the grassroots level, where it actually counts, many conservative Christians view Anderson with a strong dose of suspicion.
In a Christian landscape with so many diverse options, Pawlenty has eschewed the crusaders in favor of the consensus-builder. The only question now is whether evangelical voters are ready to make the same choice at the ballot box.