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Only one question: Pawlenty’s Denver appearance keeps veering to veepstakes

Will he — or won’t he — be Sen. John McCain’s running mate. That’s about the only thing 100 inquiring media minds want to know.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

DENVER — For one last time this morning, Tim Pawlenty went about the business of not answering questions about his immediate political future.

Will he — or won’t he — be Sen. John McCain’s running mate?

That’s the question about 100 reporters from around the country wanted to ask the Minnesota governor at a Republican Party-sponsored news event. That’s the only question Pawlenty didn’t want to answer at the session in a light-industrial building on the outskirts of Denver.

He’s used to this dance, which is expected to finally end late tonight (if the news leaks) or Friday morning, when McCain announces his choice in Ohio.

Are you going to be the vice presidential candidate?

“As for issues relating to the vice presidency, that’s for the McCain campaign to respond to,” Pawlenty said.

Have you spoken to McCain recently?

“That’s for the McCain campaign to respond to,” he said.

Where will you be headed for after you leave Denver?

“I’m scheduled to be at the Minnesota State Fair,” Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty was one of four Republicans at an event called “Not Ready 08.” All week long, various  McCain supporters have held news conferences to try to counter at least a bit of the hype surrounding Barack Obama coming out of the Democratic National Convention. The general theme of these sessions is that Obama’s a great speaker but doesn’t have the experience to become president.

(Democrats will hold similar sessions in St. Paul next week, when they try to counter enthusiasm for McCain.)

It should be noted that Pawlenty was not the only Minnesotan to appear at one of these events this week.

On Monday,  former U.S. Rep.Tim Penny, a former DFLer, stood on the Republican stage talking up his support for McCain.

Not surprisingly, DFLers are highly agitated that Penny, a man they once helped elect, has now turned to the red side.

Rep. Tim Walz directed a nifty zinger at Penny when speaking to Minnesota’s delegation to the convention Thursday morning.

“I used to say I was one of only two DFLers ever elected to Congress in the 1st District,” Walz said. “What I saw earlier this week makes me think I’m the only Democrat to represent the ticket.”

But back to Pawlenty. His job this morning was to attack Obama and build up McCain. He took on the duty with a certain amount of class.

“I want to begin by congratulating Sen. Obama and Sen. O’Biden … Biden,” Pawlenty said. “We understand that this is their week.”

But then he got to work on tearing down Obama by attacking Obama’s strengths.

“We know he’s a rock star … a gifted orator … but what’s the substance underneath that?” Pawlenty said. “… The question is, ‘What have you done, and what have you run?’ The answers are not much and nothing.”

Of course, attacking Obama’s experience put the Minnesota governor in an awkward position. And that point was raised by a reporter during a question-and-answer session.

Isn’t Pawlenty as light on experience as Obama?

“I’ve been a governor for six years and the commander in chief of the National Guard for six years,” said Pawlenty.

Doesn’t a collapsed bridge cause a bit of a political hazard for the governor?

“The leading theory (for why the bridge collapsed) is related to a design flaw going back to the 1960s,” Pawlenty said.

Back and forth it went. Pawlenty tried to talk about Obama’s political shortcomings. The reporters asked about Pawlenty and his political future.

It was another stalement. Pawlenty didn’t answer the questions. And the reporters didn’t stop asking them. 

In the end, reporters were left to speculate about Pawlenty’s chances to be vice president.

We talked about his body language at the event. (It seemed solid, though maybe a little weary.)

We talked about the people he was standing with at the Thursday morning event. (It was not exactly a star-studded cast. For heaven’s sake, one of the Republicans who spoke, Michael Williams, is the Texas railroad commissioner. He explained that in Texas, the railroad commissioner works on energy issues. Was being matched with relative lightweights a sign that Pawlenty’s not the choice? Or, was it a ruse to let him be the star of the session?)

But in a few more hours, all of these questions will be answered.

In the meantime, one more question: Has anyone seen Carol Molnau?

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.