Squawk Box's Kernen Says Pawlenty for President in 2012

CNBC's Joe Kernen has built the go-to show for politicians and policymakers.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

There may be only one thing that House Republican Whip Eric Cantor and former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean agree on: CNBC's Squawk Box, the early-morning business show that puts the spotlight on the intersection of Wall Street and Washington. "I love that show," says Dean. "It's a very smart audience. And very smart people who run the show." Adds Cantor: "There is a lot less gotcha, and it's much more insightful."

And political. As Washington has weighed in with bank and auto bailouts and healthcare reform, politics and business have gone from holding hands to marriage. And that suits Squawk host Joe Kernen and his cohosts, Becky Quick and Carl Quintanilla, perfectly. It used to be, says Kernen, that Washington and Wall Street issues had little overlap. Now, he says, "the parts that don't overlap are smaller than the parts that do."

Popular with political insiders—over 60 percent of the "guests of note" this year are policymakers—the show went viral in the spring when Chicago contributor Rick Santelli, outraged about government spending, excitedly called for a protest tea party. That prompted Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs to suggest that Santelli start drinking decaf. "It got a little surreal," says Kernen.

While not a ranter, Kernen is political. "My deal is that I'd rather have the markets do it. I think government is ineffective," says Kernen, who sneers at "Government Motors" and the "activist administration." Still, he likes President Obama. "I think he's an incredibly likable and charismatic guy. For a while, I wish I'd voted for him. But then when I see some of the stuff, I'm glad I didn't." As for 2012, he likes former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. "President Pawlenty doesn't really roll off the tongue, but who would have thought 'President Obama'?" While he's a political junkie, he won't run for office. "The few times that I've gone down there to Washington, I'm uncomfortable," says Kernen, who hosted a recent show in the Senate and plans a fall show in the House.

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR

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