July 9, 2011


Beyond Minnesota Nice: Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty brags that as governor he stared down Democrats on taxes and spending, but can he sell it to conservative voters? (KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL, 7/09/11, WSJ)

Far from going on defense, this week he aired a spot on Iowa television feting . . . the Minnesota shutdown. To be precise, the ad is highlighting a 2005 Minnesota shutdown, bragging that it happened because Mr. Pawlenty refused "to accept Democrats' massive tax and spending plans." The ad also references a 2004 transit strike (caused by a fight over pension cuts), in which Mr. Pawlenty "refused to cave in to government unions." The ad's moderator notes that both situations ended with one result: "Pawlenty won."

The candidate is eagerly talking about the current shutdown, contrasting Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's calls for more spending (the immediate cause of the state's deficit) with his own final budget fight with a Democratic legislature. He's telling audiences that he refused Democratic spending demands and vetoed Democratic tax proposals. He's highlighting his use of a little-used tool called "unallotment," which allowed him to unilaterally cut $736 million from the budget—much to Democratic fury. "In a liberal state, I reduced spending in real terms, for the first time," says the candidate in one ad.

Pawlenty as Fighter. Pawlenty Refusing to Roll for Democrats. Minnesota—goes the thinking—is T-Paw's big opening to define his candidacy. All the more so in the context of Washington's white-hot debt-limit talks. Conservative primary voters are looking for Republicans to hold the line against the president's spending and taxes, and Mr. Pawlenty's pitch is that he's been there, done that. And if, along the way, he can use this to replace his reputation as a perfectly "nice guy" with that of a candidate with the fight to take on Obama, all the better.

The Pawlenty team no doubt also sees this as an opportunity to draw contrasts within the GOP field. Mr. Romney is claiming frontrunner status, and the primary fight is increasingly about which candidate emerges to challenge him. Mr. Pawlenty's stance—that he held the line against Democratic demands—is one way to sharpen his distinctions with Mr. Romney, whose own grand bargains with his state's Democrats led to programs like RomneyCare. Or with Jon Huntsman, who despite being governor of a deep-red state with a Republican legislature, managed at one point to preside over a 35% state spending increase over a two-year period.

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Posted by at July 9, 2011 6:32 AM

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