Tim Pawlenty. In his primary race against self-financed multimillionaire Brian Sullivan, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty deployed this choice line: "We need to be the party of Sam's Club not just the country club." With his working class roots, which, perhaps taking a cue from John Edwards, he didn't hesitate to mention, Pawlenty sold the message well. Though he won with only 44 percent of the vote in a three-way race to succeed Jesse Ventura, he's become quite popular.
Pawlenty came into office as a small government absolutist, but he's since wavered. While remaining steadfast to his no-new-taxes pledge, which probably won him the election, Pawlenty has been shifting course to favor financing a wide array of middle-class-friendly public amenities, such as stadiums and a pricey commuter rail system. The move has yielded serious political dividends. The same goes for his showy gesture of establishing a state government website designed to facilitate the importation of prescription drugs from Canada. Naturally, he's also pushed for environmental protections and merit pay for public school teachers, perfect for seducing soccer moms. It's a Potemkin centrism of small-bore policy proposals that would make Bill Clinton weep. He bucks the party line just enough to get attention, but not enough to raise hackles. He's done all this while taking right-wing stances on gay rights, abortion, the death penalty, and concealed weapons, views shared by a majority of Minnesotans, including many Democrats. Very crafty.
Most importantly, Pawlenty comes from a region, the Upper Midwest, that looks increasingly vulnerable to Republican appeals. With the South and Mountain West solid as ever, taking Minnesota and Wisconsin would make for a canny strategic maneuver.
Overall Grade: B-
Things to Work On: $ # ~ &
[here's the meaning for the symbols]
$ Sure, we claim to like politicians from hardscrabble backgrounds, but secretly we want to be ruled by top-hat-wearing toffs swaddled in gold lamé.
# While you may have sworn undying loyalty to George W. Bush, our Maximum Leader, one is alarmed by your failure, thus far, to cover yourself with elaborate tattoos proclaiming said undying loyalty. That or you endorsed John McCain in 2000.
~ You should have won your home state for the prez. This ain't no disco.
& If you're going to win reelection, win big.