Timing is everything in American politics, and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s announcement that he is seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2012 couldn’t have come at a better time.
In the days leading up to Pawlenty’s announcement in Des Moines yesterday, the once ambiguous Republican field of candidates quickly became more defined. The 2008 Iowa Caucus winner, Mike Huckabee, announced he wouldn’t run in 2012. Huckabee’s official exit from the race lifts a huge cloud of uncertainty that has hung over the potential field of candidates in Iowa for months.
As Pawlenty watched his main competition in Iowa make numerous mistakes last week, he avoided making any faux pas himself. Instead, he has continued to go about building his Iowa organization in a very workman-like manner. His campaign boasts some of the state’s most known political operatives in Chuck Larson, Jr., Karen Slifka, and now Ed Failor, Jr. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 Iowa campaign manager, Eric Woolson, is serving as his Iowa communications director.
Pawlenty has invested heavily in field staff by hiring ten of them to work under campaign manager Erik Helland, as well as Tracie Gibler, his Iowa Political Director. While his campaign is larger than any other in the state, he continues to add to it. Lynn McRoberts is leaving the Governor Branstad’s office to organize coalitions for Pawlenty. Nicole Schlinger, Mitt Romney’s 2008 Straw Poll coordinator, has inked a deal for her company to provide similar services for Pawlenty’s Iowa campaign this year.
Tim Pawlenty isn’t trying to sneak up on anyone in Iowa. When you look at the size of team that he has assembled, it is clear that he intends to do more than just compete he in Iowa. He intends to win it.
In a field that is suddenly void of mainstream Republican candidates, the door is wide open for Pawlenty in Iowa. His easy-going persona and use of humor will score him points with Iowans, much like Mike Huckabee was able to do four years ago. However, Pawlenty’s main competition is establishment candidates like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, not the more socially conservative candidates. With Romney’s avoiding Iowa (he will make only his third visit to Iowa in the last two years later this week), Pawlenty has plenty of opportunities to grow his level of support in the state.
Pawlenty seems to have everything in place to do well in a state like Iowa, but it takes more than a big staff and high-profile consultants to be successful here. To win a state like Iowa, he needs a message that attracts people. He is getting better on the stump, but he still has a ways to go.
Other candidates like Gingrich, Santorum, and Michele Bachmann are more aggressive by nature. Herman Cain has proven himself to be an endearing figure who excites people on the campaign trail. Meanwhile Ron Paul and his followers are as unique and passionate as you will ever find. On the other hand, Pawlenty rarely shows the passion one would expect from a candidate seeking the Republican nomination.
In the first debate, Pawlenty shied away from distinguishing himself from fellow candidates. Voters are looking for someone who is going to aggressively challenge the President Obama. If Pawlenty is not going to be aggressive during the early phase of the nomination fight, one has to wonder if he will be aggressive in the general election if he is the party’s nominee.
Pawlenty’s announcement speech in Des Moines yesterday was more passionate than some of his other recent speeches. The common theme of the speech was that Americans need to be told the truth when it comes to the problems facing our nation. To prove that he was serious, he boldly called for the end of ethanol subsidies while standing in the shadow of the Iowa Capitol.
The national news media ate it up. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Refusing to stick to the script for candidates looking to harvest votes in February’s Iowa caucuses, Mr. Pawlenty has passed an early test of fortitude.” ABC News stated, “Tim Pawlenty has already staked out a clear plan to, as he puts it, tell “the hard truths,” even if voters don’t want to hear them.”
To many, Pawlenty’s tough talk on ethanol signifies that he’s serious when he says that he’s going to deliver the cold hard truth. The only problem is that this is not the courageous stand that the media is making it out to be.
Pawlenty’s position on ethanol is already where the renewable fuels industry is on the issue. Walt Wendland, the President of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association issued a statement saying, “The ethanol industry is united behind Senator Chuck Grassley’s legislation to phase down and reform the current ethanol incentive as part of the discussion on all energy programs. We appreciate Sen. Grassley’s leadership on this issue. Governor Pawlenty’s remarks today appear to be in line with Sen. Grassley’s approach for ethanol reform. We welcome his support.”
If Governor Pawlenty wants to speak truth to power, he needs to speak to Republicans in the United States Senate, not Iowa caucus goers. Last week, only two Republican U.S. Senators voted to end subsidies for oil and gas companies, which is also part of Pawlenty’s plan that he mentioned yesterday.
If Pawlenty is going to talk tough on eliminating all of the big energy subsidies, including those that go to the oil and gas industry, where was he last week when the Senate was taking a vote that could actually accomplish what he says he wants to do? It seems like Pawlenty faked out the national media by standing up to Iowa farmers when the truth is that he missed a golden opportunity to bring attention to this issue at a time when it could have made a difference.
During the question and answer segment of the event, Pawlenty continued to talk tough in regards to his Republican competitors.
The Republican candidates for president are all going to roll through town and say, “Look, I’m for cutting taxes and reducing spending. I’m for school choice, reform, and accountability. I’m for market based healthcare reforms. I’m pro-life. I’m for traditional marriage. I’m for appointing conservative judges. I’m for being tough on terrorism and the like.
So the words of the various candidates are going to sound similar. There is going to be some differences, but I think the real question for the people of Iowa and the people of America are not who says the words, but who actually gets it done. Who has the record to back these things up? So on this, and many other things, I’ve actually done it as an executive and a leader in government.”
Again, Pawlenty is providing a lot of tough talk, but one has to wonder if he will be alright with it when another candidate wants to talk tough about his own record. Pawlenty got a chuckle during the Fox News Debate in South Carolina when he said; “Everyone has some clunkers in their record. “
Pawlenty was talking about his support of emissions trading, which is better known as cap and trade. He also supported a mileage-based user fee as an alternative to raising fuel taxes while Governor of Minnesota. Earlier this month, President Obama announced that he wanted to study a similar plan, much to the chagrin to conservatives across the county.
Pawlenty has some other clunkers that are bound to come up throughout his campaign. In 1993, Pawlenty supported a Human Rights Amendment while in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The legislation outlawed discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.
It was the first legislation in the nation to offer protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Pawlenty has since said that he regrets that vote, but it’s still part of the record that deserves scrutiny. The issue is a highly emotional one in the Hawkeye State since the state Iowa Supreme Court used a similar state law as rationale for striking down the our Defense of Marriage Act.
Many people have joked that Tim Pawlenty is a more personable and conservative version of Mitt Romney. It’s easy to see the similarities. Like Romney he has assembled a formidable Iowa staff, he has a squeaky clean image, and unfortunately, he also has flip-flopped on some major issues that could cause him grief along the campaign trail.
For some caucuses goers, these issues could be deal-breakers, while others might be able to move past them. However, one thing is for sure. If Tim Pawlenty is going to talk tough with the voters, he better be prepared to take a little tough talk when it comes to his own record. How he deals with these issues may very well determine whether or not he has a chance at being the Republican nominee in 2012.
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