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Washington Post evaluates Pawlenty’s political prospects

Dan Balz, national political correspondent for the Washington Post, looks at Gov.

Dan Balz, national political correspondent for the Washington Post, looks at Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s ascent into the national political realm and notes some missteps, which, he says, have “other Republicans wondering about his instincts and his sure-footedness as a prospective 2012 presidential candidate.”

Still, the governor’s got to be happy that he’s getting all this attention for running with the big dogs.

Specific points Balz makes:

  • [Pawlenty] hemmed and hawed [on whether he welcomed Sen. Olympia Snowe, the lone Republican to vote for the Senate Finance Committee health care bill, in the GOP] but couldn’t bring himself to say “yes” — suggesting that he believed “no.”
  • He jumped into the controversy over President Obama’s speech to school children, questioning the wisdom of having the president speak to students in a way that provided some cover to those claiming the presidential talk was an overtly political move designed to indoctrinate young people.
  • He appeared reluctant to get on the wrong side of those who claimed there were “death panels” in some versions of the health care legislation on Capitol Hill. He eventually acknowledged there were no such panels but said the concerns of those [who] believed so were justifiable.
  • On environmental issues, concluded that he has flip-flopped on climate change legislation, which he now opposes.
  • He endorsed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava in New York’s 23rd congressional district, but he acted only after former Alaska governor Sarah Palin had turned the special election into an intraparty test of strength.

And Balz draws an analogy with the 2008 campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney:

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Still, there is something Romneyesque in all this. Four years ago, Romney lurched to the right in preparation for his presidential candidacy. He did it on social issues, where his prior support for abortion and gay rights left him vulnerable on his right flank. Pawlenty has a consistent record of opposition to abortion and gay marriage. In his case, he appears to be catering to the conservative, populist anger on the right, which is challenging the party establishment and attacking Obama in sometimes extreme language.

The real risk for Pawlenty, as Romney learned in his unsuccessful 2008 campaign, is losing his true voice and his authenticity. Romney spent so much time trying to reposition himself and picking narrow tactical fights with his rivals that the qualities that might have made him a more attractive candidate were lost in the smoke. But once a candidate starts down that road, it can be hard to pull back.