August 28, 2008


Obama Camp on Pawlenty: Bring It On (ABC News: Political Radar, August 28, 2008)

The Obama campaign signaled a willingness on Thursday to go after Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., for the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse...

Faulty Design Led to Minnesota Bridge Collapse, Inquiry Finds (MATTHEW L. WALD, 1/28/08, NY Times)
Investigators said Monday that the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, which collapsed into the Mississippi River on Aug. 1, killing 13, came down because of a flaw in its design.

The designers had specified a metal plate that was too thin to serve as a junction of several girders, investigators say.

The bridge was designed in the 1960s and lasted 40 years. But like most other bridges, it gradually gained weight during that period, as workers installed concrete structures to separate eastbound and westbound lanes and made other changes, adding strain to the weak spot. At the time of the collapse, crews had brought tons of equipment and material onto the deck for a repair job. [...]

“This is not a bridge-inspection thing,” said one investigator, “It’s calculating loads and looking at designs.” The investigator spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the investigators’ findings before the announcement Tuesday.

-Minnesota: Governor: Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) (Almanac of American Politics)
-Extreme Makeover: Tim Pawlenty's proletarian chic. (Noam Scheiber, June 25, 2008, The New Republic)

As it happens, it was Pawlenty--the son of a truck driver from the blue-collar enclave of South St. Paul--who first coined the Sam's Club phrase back in 2001. At the time, Pawlenty found himself in a fight for the gubernatorial nomination with a millionaire political novice named Brian Sullivan. Sullivan had spent a minor fortune touting himself as the embodiment of conservative purity. Pawlenty's response was to paint Sullivan as an economic elitist. He wondered if Sullivan might reinforce "the stereotype of the Republican Party ... that we're all a bunch of wealthy snobs" and urged the party to reach out to member's of "Sam's Club, not just the country club." That Pawlenty not only won the nomination, but went on to win two terms as governor of a Democratic state, has, not surprisingly, turned heads in Washington. Even Ted Kennedy has pronounced him "one of the most persuasive Republicans I've ever heard."

-Tooting the Horn of Pawlenty: Meet the first Sam's Club Republican. (Matthew Continetti, 05/07/2007, Weekly Standard)
It was back in 2002 that Pawlenty first said the GOP needed "to be the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club." Back then his embrace of his state and regional populist tradition was a curiosity, a political epiphenomenon lost in a national sea of regnant Bush Republicanism. Today Bush Republicanism is on its way out. The most successful GOP governors--Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, Rick Perry in Texas, Charlie Crist in Florida, and former governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts--like their conservatism à la carte. They emphasize certain conservative policies--low taxes most of all--but dismiss others. Meanwhile, in Washington policy circles, wonks and flacks are busy sketching out an alternative Republican agenda that combines social conservatism with an active government tailoring economic policies to help working families. Pawlenty's slogan--"The party of Sam's Club"--is the working title on a forthcoming book from Doubleday by WEEKLY STANDARD contributors Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam.

Behind all this new thinking lies a political reality. Independents are moving rapidly away from the Republican party. According to the National Exit Poll, Republicans lost independent voters by a staggering 18 points in 2006. A recent Pew survey reveals Democrats have a 15-point advantage over Republicans when voters are asked the party with which they identify.

Nowhere is the Democratic advantage more clear than with voters 18 to 29 years old. Voting patterns among this cohort shape the political environment for years to come. In the 1984 presidential election, 18- to 29-year-olds voted 40 percent Democratic and 59 percent Republican. In the 1986 congressional election, 18- to 29-year-olds were pretty much split down the middle, voting 51 percent Democratic and 49 percent Republican. One could argue such voting patterns helped set the stage for conservative governance.

After more than a decade of mirroring general electoral trends, however, the youth vote has veered left. In 2004, 18- to 29-year-olds went Democratic 54 percent to 45 percent. In the 2006 congressional elections, these voters went Democratic 60 percent to 38 percent, making them one of the most Democratic groups in the country--voting for the donkey at about the same levels as union members. If this youthful cohort continues to vote in similar ways as it grows older, the GOP is in serious trouble.

It is out of such a climate that politicians like Tim Pawlenty emerge.

At first the South St. Paul native wanted to be a dentist. He would be walking down the street and see the local teeth-cleaner--Dr. Vogel--driving his Buick Riviera, parking it in a reserved spot, and would think, Wow! This is awesome. To practice dentistry--to make money as a professional--was to enhance one's status. It was also a way to transcend difficult circumstances. Pawlenty's mother died when he was 16. His father was a truck driver who lost his job not long after her passing. Pawlenty was his family's first college graduate. He went to the University of Minnesota.

"I went to college pre-dentistry and got into organic and inorganic chemistry," he says. "And back then you had to get pretty close to a straight-A average to get into dental school, and I think I got a B- or something in either organic or inorganic chemistry, and I was discouraged and going through--you know--pretty much soul-searching as a 19- or 20-year-old kid, and I went to see a career counselor at the U--who happened to be some graduate student who I'm sure they gave a stipend to be a career counselor in their free time--and it was, you know, this zen-like thing in his office, and he said, 'What do you love to do, you know? What's your passion? What do you like to do, what books do you read on vacation?'

" . . . Long story short, I just told him I like current events, I like history, public policy. And he said, 'Well, go into something you love and do well, and whatever you love is what you'll do well in.' So that propelled me to go start taking some political science classes."

Pawlenty worked with the College Republicans and switched his major to political science. It wasn't long before he realized he probably wouldn't be able to find a job with a bachelor's in poli-sci: Holy cow, I'm going to be unemployed! I'm going to be selling hot dogs on a street corner over here if I don't get a graduate degree. So he went to law school--"Not because I had some innate love of the law. . . . I wanted to get a degree and wanted to get a job." He interned with a local state senator, practiced law, and was elected to the state house in 1992.

It's impossible to review Pawlenty's career in politics without mentioning Republican Norm Coleman, now the senior senator from Minnesota. Time after time Coleman's political decisions directly affected Pawlenty's electoral fortunes. "Norm Coleman is a very gifted senator and wonderful senator and a friend, he was a pretty well-known Minnesota political figure because he had been [the Democratic] mayor of St. Paul, dynamic, well-connected, well-financed," Pawlenty says. It all started when Pawlenty wanted to run for governor in 1998 but the decks were cleared for Mayor Coleman, who had switched parties and had an institutional advantage. Pawlenty deferred to Coleman, who went on to lose to Reform party candidate Jesse "The Body/The Mind" Ventura in a close race.

In 1999 Pawlenty was elected majority leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives. The Republicans had a one-vote majority, the Democrats held the senate, and Ventura was governor. Pawlenty was young and untested. "His colleagues saw something in him," says Minneapolis attorney Scott Johnson, one of the Powerline bloggers. "Tim held that majority together, which is so hard to do."

Johnson recalls meeting Pawlenty in 2000, at a lunch with some Republican lawyer friends. "I couldn't believe what a talented guy he was," Johnson says. "There's nobody he can't talk to. He's impossible to dislike. And that's such a rare commodity on the Republican side."

Pawlenty was thinking of running for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Paul Wellstone, who was up for reelection in 2002. Coleman was planning to run for governor once again. But the White House thought Coleman would be a stronger Senate candidate than Pawlenty. Coleman decided to follow advice from Washington and move into the Senate race. Pawlenty started receiving phone calls from national Republicans urging him to step aside for Coleman--again. "For a number of days leading up to that there was a whole series of calls saying, 'Look, nobody knows who you are, you don't have any money,'" Pawlenty says, breaking out into a hiccupy laugh. "'Norm's going to get the endorsement, and you're just chasing the wind.'" Pawlenty didn't know what to do. Then one day a call came from Dick Cheney telling him to move aside. "That was kind of the icing on the cake."

Pawlenty won a contested Republican gubernatorial primary and scraped by in the general election, winning 44 percent of the vote. It was a close election in a Republican year, both nationally and in Minnesota. Coleman won the Senate seat (he ran ahead of Pawlenty, taking 50 percent of the vote), and Republicans increased their majority in the state house.

Pawlenty's first task on assuming office was to confront the state's $4.2 billion budget deficit. The newly elected governor had promised to erase the deficit without raising taxes. He did so. And he kept busy. He signed a law requiring a waiting period for abortions and another allowing permit-holders to carry concealed firearms. He threw out the state's lax education requirements and passed new, tougher standards. He won passage of a drug reimportation bill. He poured resources into alternative energy--one of his favorite subjects and proudest accomplishments. He talks with rare interest about biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol and wind power. "Under my watch we've doubled the proposed requirements for ethanol in gasoline here," he says. "We implemented the first in the nation biodiesel requirement in our diesel fuel, 2 percent soy oil. We're one of the nation's leaders in wind energy production. And it's largely part of some tax credits we put into law on my watch as governor."

The second half of his first term had its disappointments. Democrats gained in statewide elections in 2004 and the state confronted another budget crunch. In 2005 the state was on the edge of a government shutdown. Then it leapt off the edge. "And those were very difficult negotiations," Pawlenty says.

The shutdown lasted eight days. "That was very difficult, very contentious," Pawlenty goes on. "And the decision to do that, stare down, was tough. We ended up getting it resolved, making some compromises. Looking over the abyss into a government shutdown--that was a challenge." Pawlenty vetoed some Democratic tax bills, but agreed to raise the state cigarette tax. This lost him some friends on the right.

Not enough to prevent his reelection, however. Pawlenty is beginning his second term eager to strengthen his education reforms, pour more money into alternative energy subsidies, and try to recover what was lost of his antitax reputation by combating the state Democratic majority's efforts to raise taxes.

-Minn. governor rides his rapport with McCain: Speculation increasing on Pawlenty as VP pick (Michael Kranish, July 28, 2008, Boston Globe)
As Senator John McCain campaigned across New Hampshire early this year, one of his favorite traveling buddies was his longtime friend, Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.

McCain told voters that Pawlenty reminded him of a joke about two men in prison: One inmate turned to another and said, the food was better in prison "when you were governor."

Some politicians might resent being compared to a convict, but Pawlenty, no matter how many times he heard the joke, laughed appreciatively. And, no matter how many times he introduced McCain, Pawlenty lavished praise on the Arizona Republican as if it were his only chance.

The rapport between the two men, evident throughout long days on the campaign trail, now is being cited as one of the main reasons that Pawlenty has risen in speculation as McCain's possible running mate.

While much of the recent buzz has surrounded former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, his bitter primary fight with McCain and the lack of a personal relationship could hurt Romney's chances.

If McCain is looking for a close friend whose loyalty is beyond question, Pawlenty could be his vice presidential pick, political observers said. Pawlenty might also help McCain win Minnesota, where a recent poll showed the race is statistically tied.

-Pawlenty Looks to National Stage (MONICA DAVEY, 8/08/08, NY Times)
[T]hose who have followed his political rise here say Mr. Pawlenty’s personal story — his direct, everyman appeal to ordinary people — is among his most powerful attributes.

Long before the polls began suggesting that Republicans could face trouble in November, Mr. Pawlenty, now in his second term, was urging his party to become “the party of Sam’s Club,” not just the country club.

“We need everybody — to grow the party and to move forward,” Mr. Pawlenty explained in a recent interview. “One of the most powerful reasons people go to Sam’s Club or Target or Costco is they want value, and Republicans are well suited to be the party that says, ‘We’re going to have a limited but also effective government.’ ”

Mr. Pawlenty can talk about such things from experience. He now lives in the well-off suburb of Eagan, but holds blue-collar credentials. He grew up in South St. Paul, then a working-class town where life revolved around the stockyards, where his father drove a truck, where he played hockey, where his mother died of cancer when he was still a teenager, and where he went on to become the first in his family to graduate from college.

For Mr. McCain, whose campaign would not comment about the vice-presidential selection process, Mr. Pawlenty might be appealing on other fronts. At 47, tall and runner-thin, Mr. Pawlenty is the same age as Senator Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee. He also carries qualifications important to many conservatives: opposition to tax increases, longtime attendance at a church with a pastor who leads the National Association of Evangelicals and a mostly consistent conservatism on social issues.

-Pawlenty Is As Good As It Gets (Lisa Schiffren, 8/16/08, National Review)
-Losing the mullet, angling for veep: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has a shot at being John McCain's No. 2 -- and it's not just because of the snazzy new haircut. (Mike Madden, Jul. 03, 2008, Salon)
What has Republicans buzzing about Pawlenty, though, isn't so much his hairstyle as his political style. He's won election twice in a key battleground state that the GOP has long dreamed of taking back at the presidential level, and that will host the Republican convention in September. He's young enough to balance out McCain's age, but experienced enough after two terms in office to claim he's been tested. Social conservatives like him; his pastor, the Rev. Leith Anderson, heads the National Association of Evangelicals. And week in and week out, as one of the McCain campaign's most visible surrogates on cable news, Pawlenty is proving he has no trouble delivering sharp lines against Barack Obama with a smile. (Like other potential McCain running mates, Pawlenty has issued bland denials that he's seeking the job, always leaving plenty of wiggle room in case he's asked.)

"I think Barack Obama's book 'The Audacity of Hope' perhaps should be retitled 'The Audacity of Hypocrisy,'" Pawlenty said Sunday on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." He followed up later with a dig at Obama and Hillary Clinton's joint event in New Hampshire: "They shouldn't have had the meeting in Unity, N.H.; they should have had it in Political Expediency, N.H., if there is such a community." The attacks look harsh written out, but they flowed by smoothly in Pawlenty's laid-back Minnesota tone. On TV, he comes across as easygoing and natural, even when he's sticking the dagger in an opponent. Even Democrats in Minnesota credit him for being personable and friendly (though they say that doesn't make him any easier to work with in the statehouse).

Pawlenty's blue-collar roots also look attractive to many Republican strategists. His father drove a truck in the Twin Cities for years. Pawlenty was the first person in his family to go to college. He says he's a "Sam's Club Republican," not a country club Republican, although he has hewed toward conservative economic policies since he was first elected in 2002.

"He's been a conservative governor in a fairly liberal state, and managed to maintain his popularity pretty well doing it," said former Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber, now a D.C. power broker who's staying neutral in the vice-presidential sweepstakes because he's also close with Rob Portman, another contender, and backed yet another, Mitt Romney, in the GOP primary. Weber said Pawlenty has a "Reaganesque appeal" to Republicans who know him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 28, 2008 11:41 PM
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