By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
It's striking that today's Associated Press profile of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate, excludes mention of his evangelical faith and strong ties to the evangelical world. I was struck by the same absence in a recent New York Times Pawlenty profile.
How solid are Pawlently's evangelical bona fides? The pastor of his home church is president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the nation's largest evangelical interest. Last year, as John McCain struggled to win over evangelical leaders, Pawlently quietly tried to arrange a meeting between the Republican presidential nominee and National Association of Evangelical bigs, but to no avail.
Around that time, the Minnesota Independent covered some of Pawlenty's faith-based policies:
It's hard not to see the fingerprints of Pawlenty's pastor in his public policy initiatives. Much to the chagrin of other members of Minnesota's Republican Party, Pawlenty has recently had a come-to-Jesus moment on global warming—perhaps literally. Pawlenty has been championing strategies to reduce carbon emissions as chairman of the National Governors Association over the last year and half. Perhaps not coincidentally, [Leith] Anderson, Pawlenty's pastor, five years ago began encouraging evangelicals to get involved in global warming mitigation in order to preserve "God's gift of our earth." Pawlenty even appointed Anderson to his Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group.
Such appointments of evangelicals have been one way Pawlenty has put his faith to the test during his administration. After he appointed Cheri Pierson Yecke as education commissioner, she told Minnesota Public Radio, "Every local district should have the freedom to teach creationism, if that is what they choose." She also moved to beef up social studies and history curriculum with quotes from figures in American history about God and Christians. Yecke was ousted by the Minnesota Senate in 2004. . . .
Pawlenty's political career before becoming governor included eight years in the Minnesota House. . . . [W]hile Pawlenty voted for the Minnesota Human Rights Act of 1993 that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while running for his first term as governor he said it was the one vote he would take back.
Unlike prospective Republican White House contenders like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, Pawlenty doesn't talk like a culture warrior, which helps explain why Pawlenty coverage in the national media ignores his faith-based side. But can his less strident tone help him win independents in a way that Huckabee and Palin have failed to, while his evangelical side makes him a hit with the GOP's social conservative base?