WASHINGTON, D.C. — Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s first big fundraiser for his newly formed political action committee got off to a rollicking start Thursday night at a popular D.C. bar, with more than 500 people paying $25 to $50 to meet the Republican from Minnesota.
In an eight-minute speech to a crowd of mostly young Republicans, Pawlenty touched on familiar themes, including his working-class roots, what he called his ability to prevail with a conservative agenda in a state that leans left, and the work that the GOP needs to do to be more inclusive and capture the independent vote.
“We need to have a conservative movement, but one that is moderate in its approach and one that is moderate [in the way it] presents issues,” Pawlenty told the crowd.
Although Pawlenty insists that he is not an active candidate for president in 2012, at least one prominent Minnesota lawmaker at Thursday’s “Pretzels and Pints” shindig thinks that he should be.
Republican Rep. John Kline, who co-hosted the event, told reporters that not only did he think Pawlenty should run, but that he would endorse him if he did.
“He is a young face. He is very, very smart. He is very articulate,” Kline said. “I don’t know of anybody better right now on the scene…”
Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen, another co-host of the fundraiser, declined to speculate on any potential future endorsements, but he did say that he thought Pawlenty had a good message and was doing a positive thing for the state by starting his PAC and helping the Republican Party.
The Freedom First PAC allows Pawlenty to raise money and contribute to political races in 2010. The list of advisers he is assembling includes Phil Musser, the former executive director of the Republican Governors Association; Sara Taylor, who served as President George W. Bush’s former political director; and former Minnesota Republican Rep. Vin Weber.
Riffing off the Rolling Stones, Pawlenty said that while the party did not get what it wanted in 2008, it did get something it needs:
“That is an opportunity to step back and say, What are the lessons from [the election losses of] 2008, 2006?” Pawlenty said. “How do we improve our party? How do we improve the product that we offer to people who want to serve?”
Pawlenty later said he was “very pleased” with the event and the turnout.
The casual, get-to-know-you happy hour was followed by a higher dollar fundraiser across Capitol Hill at the home of veteran lobbyist John Milne and his wife Deb Anderson. Guests were asked to raise or contribute $5,000 to Pawlenty’s PAC.
An estimate of how much money was raised at the fundraisers was not available.