Tim Pawlenty: The GOP's Second Most Well-Known Minnesotan

Tim Pawlenty. Who? Exactly.

That was the response of most Americans when Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor with a “red-hot smoking wife,” became the first Republican to enter the 2012 presidential race. However, some say this fisherman from Main Street is too prepared for this election. He wanted to be a dentist, but he’ll settle for president.

He’s 50 years old and was born in St. Paul, Minn. He father drove a milk truck (likely to come up in his campaign once or twice). Pawlenty married Mary Elizabeth Anderson in 1987. She’s a district judge in Minnesota and they have two daughters. Pawlenty was raised Roman Catholic and became an Evangelical Christian due in part to his wife.

Pawlenty served two terms as governor of Minnesota from 2003 to 2011. In both elections he won with pluralities, not majorities, and he won reelection over Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch by less than one percenet of the vote. Despite close margins in both elections, Pawlenty averaged approval ratings around 50 percent during his eight years in office. Not bad for a Republican in a largely blue state.

He emerged onto the national stage in 2008 as a potential contender to be John McCain’s running mate, only to be overshadowed by an even lesser-known Alaskan. At the time, he was seen as the Republican version of Barack Obama: Mid-40s, lawyer with two girls and an attractive wife.

In accordance with our social media age, Pawlenty announced his presidential exploratory committee on his Facebook page, and the only way you could see the video of the announcement was to "like" the candidate, a move that swelled his ranks of Facebook followers to more than 83,000. (But while that number sounds impressive, it pales to Mitt Romney’s nearly 850,000 followers. But hey, it’s early in the game.)

The 2012 campaign will be an upstream battle for Pawlenty – mainly because no one outside of Minnesota knows who he is. A February poll showed fellow Minnesotan, Tea Party Republican Rep. Michelle Bachmann, beating Pawlenty in a presidential primary matchup.

However, Pawlenty's got many things going for him, including his ability to portray himself as the average everyman American. Pawlenty was, after all, the man who coined the phrase "Sam’s Club Republican." Challengers will find it hard to attack him on consistency. Unlike many other potential candidates, Pawlenty has been consistently consistent on major domestic issues such as fiscal policy and social matters.


Pawlenty’s signature achievement as governor was eliminating an estimated $4 billion budget shortfall, while maintaining his “no new taxes” pledge. He cut funding for health care, education and other programs, causing frequent clashes with the state Legislature.

His campaign will tell you he never raised taxes, but a “health impact fee” on cigarettes was enacted while he was governor. Pawlenty insisted it wasn’t a tax, saying in 2005, “I believe this is a user fee. Some people are going to say it’s a tax. I’m going to say it’s a compromise and solution to move Minnesota forward.”

Staff points out this particular cigarette fee differs from an earlier version in 2003, and add it was first proposed by a member of the Minnesota House, and not Gov. Pawlenty.

Health Care

Pawlenty’s campaign staff have already signaled a central theme of his 2012 campaign will be health care. A President Pawlenty would call for immediate repeal of President Obama’s health care overhaul.

He joined his fellow Republican, and rival, Mitt Romney in blasting the new health legislation.

“Obamacare takes our health system in the wrong direction, failing to reduce costs and improve quality,” Pawlenty said.


Pawlenty dubs himself a “strong and vocal supporter of pro-life issues.” As governor, he appointed an attorney who worked with pro-life groups as chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

In his first and successful run for the Minnesota House in 1991, Pawlenty said he supported parental notification requirements for abortions to be administered to minors. When he originally ran for governor in 2002, he campaigned on a pledge to impose a 24-hour waiting period to obtain an abortion. He also favors informed consent procedures, "which involved an explanation of risks and possible alternatives."

Pawlenty came out against South Dakota’s sweeping abortion ban, saying he opposes legalized abortion, but supports exceptions for rape, incest and saving the life of the mother.

Foreign Policy

Pawlenty lives in Eagan, Minn., a well-to-suburb of Minneapolis. It’s about 300 miles from the Canadian border, so it is unlikely he can see Canada from his house.

While Pawlenty hasn’t set forth a clear agenda as to what his foreign policy agenda would be as president, we know he doesn’t like President Obama’s. Pawlenty told RadioIowa earlier this month that Obama’s foreign policy is "dangerous" and "incoherent," pointing to the Obama Administration’s decision to scrap the anti-missile defense systems planned for Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as the way the U.S. handled the crisis in Egypt. Pawlenty described a “complexity” to Middle East affairs and added Obama had committed U.S. troops to a military action in Libya that’s “preposterous” because it has unclear goals.

Gay Rights

Not a fan. Pawlenty is a traditionalist when it comes to family.

As governor, he vetoed legislation that would have given same-sex couples the rights to control the remains of their partner upon death. He said the bill addressed a “nonexistent problem” because same-sex couples have the option of drawing up a living will.

An editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune called his veto of the bill, known as the Final Wishes Bill, cold and calculating. However, social conservatives applauded the governor for upholding "traditional marriage."


From The Daily Show in January: