Proving that "Minnesota nice" can be an acquired taste, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty is getting a new and apparently approving look by GOP establishment and conservative leaders now that others in his lane like Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Mike Huckabee have rejected running and Newt Gingrich has stumbled out of the gate.
And for those disappointed by Barbour and Huckabee, Pawlenty could be the choice should Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who's laboring over running for the GOP presidential nomination, become the third prominent Republican to skip the 2012 race.
Says one conservative publisher: "I think a lot of people are giving Pawlenty a good first look or a critical second look now. And you know, when you spend some time with him, he comes off really well." [See a slide show of 10 issues driving Obama's re-election campaign.]
Says a Pawlenty associate, "I think people are still taking a first look at T-Paw. Our contention has always been that the more people get to know Governor Pawlenty, the more they'll like him."
So far, say some conservatives we talked to, T-Paw, as he's known, comes off as a solid blue state conservative who's building a strong campaign team.
It's not that he's second best, says one Washington GOP adviser to congressional leaders. It's just that some of the others who were eyeing the race had longer relationships with many Washington establishment leaders who aren't already aligned with front-runner Mitt Romney. What's more, when Gingrich stumbled, some who were considering backing the former House speaker were spooked that he was too undisciplined. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]
That leaves Daniels as the remaining likely potential candidates among the top tier. "If he doesn't get in, a lot of people will swing over to Pawlenty. I think T-Paw stands to benefit the most from Daniels not getting in," said a GOP political adviser and former Bush aide.
That Pawlenty has been overshadowed by others like Romney and Gingrich isn't surprising or apparently distressing to "Team Pawlenty." In fact there is kind of a knowing look among his supporters that eventually Republicans will see that he's their silver bullet. [See a slide show of the 2012 Republican contenders.]
Want proof? Click on Pawlenty's home page and you're directed to a National Review blog post that says Pawlenty is the GOP's "wake up call." It reads:
Tim Pawlenty has already beaten the Democrats in a government shut-down battle. He's defeated public-employee unions in a high-stakes strike. He was regularly rated as one of the most fiscally conservative governors in the nation. And he managed to do it all in a blue state. Pawlenty is Scott Walker with experience. It's just that nobody knows it because Pawlenty's clashes with his state's public unions and big Democratic spenders happened some time ago. If anything, Pawlenty ought to be getting extra credit for having faced down public-employee unions and profligate Democratic legislators before it was cool. Are we really so dense -- so utterly dependent on the latest news cycle -- that we are going to let a major opportunity like Pawlenty slip away out of the misplaced worry that he's got no name recognition?
That is a solvable problem. Just watch: 'Hey, Tim Pawlenty was a great conservative two-term governor of Minnesota! He's tough on defense, conservative on social issues, and well liked by people from both sides of the aisle. He's faced down Democrats time and again and won. He's got the biography of a lunch-bucket Democrat and the outlook of a fiscally conservative Republican. And he can win! Yes, Tim Pawlenty can beat Barack Obama in a head-to-head battle for the presidency of the United States. Wake up, Republicans! The answer to your prayers is already running.' And if all the pundits would just stop fantasizing for a minute about everyone who's not running, maybe they'd pay more attention to who actually is.