Pawlenty Surges to Forefront of Romney Veepstakes Speculation

For his part, Romney clearly holds Pawlenty in high regard. At an event in Las Vegas last October, Romney acknowledged that he had expected Pawlenty to be his "toughest competition" in the GOP primary. While Pawlenty's campaign never lived up to those expectations, and was crushed after coming in behind both Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul in the straw poll, former Pawlenty aides do not blame the defeat on the candidate himself.

"The campaign made a lot of strategic mistakes, and I don't think anybody thought he lost because he underperformed as a candidate," one aide said. "Some people may have expected more, but at the end of the day he lost because he ran out of money, not because people didn't like him or his message. We went all in on the straw poll, which was an organizing contest and we got out-organized by some other candidates who peaked at the exact right moment. He's very comfortable in his own shoes and speaking from his heart, and I think having a lot of organization and advisers around him telling him what to say wasn't always constructive. Now he's very much his own man and just helping Mitt without any agenda other than to help him get elected president. He's having fun, and it shows."

If Pawlenty has a drawback, it may be the oft-cited criticism that he is too bland, that while he appears to be a safe choice, he is not an exciting one. That sounds a lot like Evan Bayh, the Democratic senator from Indiana who was reportedly on Obama's short-list in 2008, but was ultimately passed over for Sen. Joe Biden. After witnessing what happened to the McCain-Palin ticket that fall, Romney may not want an exciting running mate.

Instead, just how Obama opted for a former rival in Biden, Romney may take the same approach and pick Pawlenty. It is an option that appears more and more plausible by the day.

Matthew Jaffe covers the 2012 campaign for ABC News and Univision. Get more pure politics at ABC News.com/Politics and a lighter take on the news at OTUSNews.com

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