It was as if Gov. Tim Pawlenty were talking about himself.
Speaking to the Minnesota delegation in a lineup of Republican all-star also-rans this morning, Pawlenty told a favorite joke of his:
The high school basketball coach was tired of the lethargic, pathetic efforts of his team. He goes into the locker room and says to his players, “Hey, did Michael Jordan ever quit?”
“No coach!” the players yelled.
The coach says, “Did Wayne Gretzky ever quit?”
“No coach,” the players yelled.
“What about Elmer McAlester — did he ever quit?”
“Coach, we never heard of Elmer McAlester,” the players said.
“That’s because he quit,” the coach said.
The delegates to the Republican National Convention laughed with great appreciation.
Pawlenty touts McCain-Palin ticket
On the greater level, Pawlenty’s message was about inspiring the Republican troops to get out and work, work, work for the McCain-Palin ticket.
But in telling the story of Michael and Elmer, was Pawlenty also talking about his personal decision in how he will handle the disappointment of not being chosen to run with McCain?
After his speech, Pawlenty spent a few minutes with reporters. Among other things, he said that he’d learned of McCain’s decision to run with Sarah Palin Friday morning. He repeated the positive things he’s been saying about McCain’s surprising choice.
No disappointment, he said. “I’m grateful for what I have.”
Certainly, there was a bounce in his step Wednesday, when he, along with other also-rans, Mitt Romney and Tom Ridge, took turns addressing the Minnesotans.
All three received huge applause.
But there was genuine affection for Pawlenty.
Some of the delegates, such as Eden Prairie’s Angelin Erhard, were wearing Pawlenty stickers for the occasion.
“I was positive — 100 per cent positive — that he would be the choice,” she said. “I was shocked when I heard it was Sarah Palin.”
Is she upset with the choice?
“I think she’s, ummm, an interesting choice,” said Erhard, who describes herself as a political pragmatist. “She keeps it lively. Now, she has to live up to expectations. But I will say this: Nothing bad can happen to Tim Pawlenty out of this. No door has been shut on him.”
Delegates think governor’s future still bright
That seemed to be the consensus among Minnesota delegates. This flirtation with high national office was not the end for Pawlenty, only the beginning.
Ron Carey, chairman of the state party, introduced the governor with talk of Pawlenty’s future.
“We know and love Tim Pawlenty,” Carey said. “He’s the best governor in the United States. I know a lot are disappointed that he wasn’t chosen. But he’s a winner. God has called him for service down the road that we can’t even imagine.”
(God appears to play a bigger role in Republican politics than in Democratic politics.)
State Sen. Dave Senjem, the minority leader from Rochester, said Pawlenty recognized the necessity of McCain’s choice.
“I talked to him a lot,” said Senjem. “He’s 1,000 percent in support of John McCain and Sarah Palin. … He recognized that McCain had to have profound change. He recognizes that he certainly needed a woman, someone who could steal the stage from Barack Obama coming out of Denver.”
Pawlenty walked to the stage Wednesday morning, holding the hand of his wife, Mary. He spoke with gusto about the McCain-Palin ticket.
It was really quite a remarkable performance.
“He (McCain) has the courage to call it as he sees it,” Pawlenty said to the delegates. “… He’s selected a running mate who amplifies his characteristics. She has the characteristics that excite Republicans and many others.”
Pawlenty will have at least one more big opportunity on the national stage. He is to speak somewhere between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Thursday night, before it’s McCain’s turn to speak.
There will be more campaigning for McCain, Pawlenty told reporters. But he also may grab some of his life back, too.
“Nothing changes,” he said. “I’m the same person. I live in the same house. I have the same family and the same values.”
He does have one huge mission. He and his spouse are trying to get the Twin Cities and Duluth Marathons to allow runners to use headsets. (The headsets were recently banned by those two races, for safety reasons.)
“I keep calling, but they won’t listen to me,” Pawlenty said.
He loves running to music. A few years ago, “when I wasn’t in very good shape,” he ran one marathon listening to Elvis’ “Hunka, Hunka Burning Love.”
If the two major Minnesota marathons don’t change their policies on headsets, the Pawlentys vow they’ll boycott them — and aim for a marathon in Portland next year.
Pawlenty noted this has been an extraordinarily busy year. He headed the National Governors Association, faced a difficult legislative session that had to deal with a big deficit, campaigned heavily for McCain, and dealt with floods in southeastern Minnesota and a bridge collapse in the Twin Cities.
After all of that, there’s one more thing: “A long honey-do list.”
G.R. Anderson Jr. contributed to this report.