Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was an early drop-out of the 2012 GOP presidential nomination race, but his endorsement on Monday of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney suggests he's still hoping to affect the outcome.
Appearing on Fox and Friends Monday morning, Pawlenty announced his 2012 choice, saying Romney is the "one candidate in this race who is unmatched in his skills, and his experience, and his talent when it comes to turning around this economy and growing jobs." Pawlenty, who will now become the Romney campaign's national cochair, also highlighted Romney's private sector experience and his work on the 2002 Winter Olympics in an op-ed on the National Review website.
When Pawlenty was still in the running, he made waves criticizing the Massachusetts healthcare law that Romney signed when he was governor, referring to it as "Obamneycare." (Though in a debate in June, Pawlenty perhaps hurt his own chances by backing off the "Obamneycare" comment and missing an opportunity to come out strong against Romney, who was then the GOP's frontrunner.) Now, his endorsement could help explain that dynamic a little better, says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "He secretly liked him," Sabato says.
Indeed, when asked on Monday about the "Obamneycare" comment, he defended Romney's position on the president's national healthcare law. "Mitt Romney is 100 percent dedicated and committed to repealing Obamacare," Pawlenty said. "I know and trust that's what he'll do."
"Endorsements rarely matter," Sabato says. And that could be especially true for an endorsement by Pawlenty, who had trailed in the national polls and had a poor showing at the Ames Straw Poll earlier this year. Also, Romney, as the more moderate conservative candidate in the GOP field, was the more natural choice for Pawlenty, who had also been billed as such, Sabato says.
The endorsement could also be a sign that Pawlenty is positioning to get on the ticket with Romney as vice president. However, in his Fox and Friends interview Monday, Pawlenty denied that's what he had in mind. "I'm not even going to consider that," he said.