The murmurs about former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty being a possible Obama challenger in 2012 are getting louder.
He's playing it cool, like any smart politician, not admitting anything concrete until he's sure of his position on the political chessboard. But Pawlenty's behavior of late shows he's taking baby steps towards higher office. The first thing to do when you're considering the oval office, of course, is to tell your life story on a soapbox—you publish your memoir.
When NPR asked him (and everyone is asking) if he planned to run, the usually articulate politician stumbled through his timing as he answered, "I've got this book tour coming up and after that I'll decide what's next."
But Pawlenty sure sounds like a presidential hopeful. And he admitted he's considering it—seriously.
"My desire to cut spending and reduce the size and role of government is not driven by polls or a series of check marks on a scorecard of how to win an election," he wrote. "I've simply had enough with the growth of government. And I'm not alone. People all over America have had enough, too."
He frequently points out his modest upbringing. He writes, "I didn't make enough money working at Applebaum's Grocery to afford to live on campus so I stayed home and commuted to Minneapolis for classes in the red and white Buick Century I inherited from my parents until it died."
Funnily, his book cover looks just like that of George W. Bush (former President) and Sarah Palin (another Presidential hopeful). When asked about the similarity, he called it a "coincidence." And he jokes in his interviews that he is running for President—of his hockey league or, "I am gonna run for President—of my youth soccer league."
He denies there's any strategy behind his politics but says, "If I can help to shape America's future for the better in any small way, then it is my duty, and my honor to serve in whatever capacity I can." (Nudge, nudge.)
In interviews, he's calm, quiet, confident and rarely thrown off by an interviewer's jabs. He often says, reassuringly, "We need to know the facts." He analagizes issues for clarity and boldly criticizes the work of the Obama Administration.
Polls are already asking the question; would you vote for Pawlenty if he runs for President?
So, to help you answer that question, here he is.
T-Paw on the Issues
On Health care:
On most issues, Pawlenty is your standard conservative Republican. In his final months as governor, he joined the health bill lawsuit against Obama's health care plan. He calls it "one of the most misguided pieces of legislation in modern history" and would repeal it if given the opportunity, saying it isn't good enough. He's expressed concern that the national health care reform could create a financial disaster.
As Governor of Minnesota, Pawlenty backed a health care plan that, instead of paying health insurance companies for what he calls "endless volumes of procedures," rewards insurance companies that provide efficient care and "better outcomes." But notably, his Minnesota plan contains some of the reform components of the Obama plan.
Before leaving the governor's office in December 2010, Pawlenty spoke in favor of changing the Constitution's 14th Amendment so that children of illegal immigrants born in the U.S. would not have automatic citizenship. He also supports the immigration law in Arizona saying, "you can't have big bunches of people breaking the law."
He cautiously supports some immigration reform, but has strict concerns about who would qualify: "As to the 12 to 15 million people who are here illegally, anybody who tells you they are all going be rounded up and thrown out of the country is probably not shooting it to you straight. So we have to make some judgments. If you have been here 12 months and you are a felon and a drug dealer, you should get thrown out. If you've been here 20 years, and you've served in the military, and you have been law-abiding, then allowing you to stay here temporarily, or on an intermittent basis, is OK."
Pawlenty supported the Bush tax cuts extension, but not unconditionally. Here he took a different path from many Republicans on Capitol Hill saying it had to be paid for, while many Congressional Republicans said the cuts did not need to be offset.
Initially he wanted Minnesota to reject federal stimulus money, saying he was concerned the state agencies would become dependent on the money and that the support wasn't stimulative enough. (He later accepted the funds.)
On Gay Rights
Pawlenty's stance on gay rights has evolved over the years. In 1993, when he was first elected to the state House of Representatives, he voted for the Human Rights Amendment that banned discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation. During his run for the Governor seat in 2002, he called the amendment a mistake, saying if he could do it over, he "would have changed some things."
He's always been vocal about his views against gay marriage and in 2010, he vetoed a bill that would allow a surviving same-sex partner to execute a deceased partner's funeral wishes.
As Governor in 2003, Pawlenty signed the Women's Right to Know Act into law which required women seeking abortions to wait 24 hours in order to receive more information about the medical risks of abortion, potential pain the fetus could feel, and the gestational age of the fetus at the time of the procedure.
He's also spoken out against public funding for abortions.
Pawlenty is an Evangelical Christian and doesn't hesitate to say he's driven in part by those values. (His book is full of quotes from scripture.) He says creationism is "plausible and credible" and in Minnesota, local school districts make the decision whether or not they will include it in their curriculum. Agreeing with Sarah Palin, he calls teaching intelligent design along with evolution in public schools,"appropriate."
On Sarah Palin
In a Newsweek interview in December 2009, he said of Sarah Palin, "she has tapped into a kind of base-level feeling about the role and scope of government. She speaks bluntly and plainly in ways people can understand." He has mantained his support for her, saying she's just as qualified as Obama to be President—even more so. "I would argue she's more qualified in terms of leadership, experience, management, and supervision—actually running something."
Yet if Pawlenty runs for President in 2012, he thinks he may find himself running against her.
Of people to obsess over in the Republican party, Pawlenty says pundits have honed in on Palin and this has provided her with the platform, a platform he also hopes to obtain. He knows he'll need to do some ground work in order to get his name out for a presidential run. "There is a legitimate question about whether somebody who is basically unknown, isn't independently wealthy, isn't famous, would have a chance." (He may not be famous, but he has nearly 70,000 friends on Facebook.)
In terms of other competition, when asked about Tea Party favorite Michelle Bachmann's potential presidential run, he used our favorite words... "It's a free country." He said, "Anyone can run that's over the age of 35."
How his state fared during his tenure:
Pawlenty generally speaks proudly of his time as Minnesota's Governor, but he didn't enjoy wide-spread support throughout the state.
The main governing principle during his time in office was not to raise taxes, and he didn't, with the exception of a cigarette tax in 2005. As a result, he struggled with the budget throughout his tenure.
His critics say he didn't do much for education in the state, the number of jobs created while he was in office remained low, and despite his new health care plans, the state has one of the highest numbers of uninsured people in the country.
Pawlenty was barely reelected for a second term in 2006 and in March of last year, a SurveyUSA Poll showed 52 percent of Minnesotans disapproved of him. They didn't want him to run for president either. Only 28 percent of Minnesotans were interested in seeing Pawlenty run in 2012.
Despite these things, Republicans have praised him for sticking to his promises on taxes and spending.
On The Daily Show Wednesday night, John Stewart mentioned the rise in Minnesota's property taxes after Pawlenty's severe budget cuts caused local governments to compensate for the losses in state aid. But, Pawlenty sticks to his argument: government is too big and we are heading in the wrong direction.
"It's crowding into more space that used to be for individuals, that used to be for private markets, that used to be for charity," he said on The Daily Show, "...and they push in and say, we'll do that now... There's a lot of us who say, that feels like government stepping on us, pushing us to the side and there is a continuum between liberty and tyranny and it sometimes happens very incrementally..."
In Pawlenty's view, things need to change. And though he hasn't fully thrown himself into the mix yet, with one hint after another, he's leading us to believe he'd sure enjoy a spot on the Republican ticket in 2012. He dropped another hint when he spent time stumping for legislators in Iowa late last year, a state that could mean a lot to him in the future.