One year ago today, Tim Pawlenty launched the first Iowa television ads of the 2012 campaign, signaling a media blitz before the crucial Iowa straw poll last August. That straw poll ended disastrously for Pawlenty, a third-place finish that led to his abrupt withdrawal from the Republican primary.
But today Pawlenty is back at the forefront of the political world, considered a likely front-runner on presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's list for a possible running mate. The former Minnesota governor is now at the top of the short-list, Politico reported Wednesday.
It is not hard to see why. In recent months, Pawlenty has emerged as a loyal surrogate for Romney, who helped pay off Pawlenty's campaign debt last year. No sooner had Pawlenty left the presidential race, his campaign war chest empty, then he endorsed Romney. He hit the campaign trail, stumping for Romney at numerous events. Despite his struggles as a candidate in his own right, Pawlenty excelled as a surrogate. A former aide to Pawlenty's campaign said his success as a surrogate stemmed from his genuine belief in Romney – and has no connection to the vice presidential speculation.
"It's almost as if the pressure was off. His personality emerged more boldly when it was about Mitt Romney. I think that's a strength, not a weakness," the former aide said. "It's someone who has coalesced behind Gov. Romney at an early stage and put all his strengths behind him. That's where that authenticity comes from."
"He's a really good fit. He's low-maintenance, and he's a team player. You know, he believes in Gov. Romney and believes in what he's trying to do. Since he endorsed him, he's been that type of surrogate. He's not doing that for any quid pro quo. He's doing that because he backs Romney. And he'd be doing this regardless."
In addition to Pawlenty's loyal work as a surrogate, he has other characteristics that may appeal to the Romney campaign as it tries to figure out who to add to the GOP ticket.
"He's got the benefit of having been a conservative governor in a blue state and moving it red, plus the benefit of coming from outside of Washington, so there's a lot that he brings to the table," the former aide said.
Pawlenty served two terms as a governor of Minnesota, at one point overseeing a 10-day shutdown of the state government because of a disagreement over taxes and spending, a fight that is raging now in the nation's capital. The son of a truck driver from St. Paul, he comes from a blue-collar family and displays a workingman mentality, two qualities that could complement Romney well on the Republican ticket. He enjoys popularity among evangelicals, a group that may have reservations about Romney's Mormon faith. And he might help Romney in key Midwestern battleground states, such as Minnesota and Iowa.
Another element in Pawlenty's favor: He has no skeletons in the closet. Pawlenty was vetted in 2008 by Sen. John McCain's campaign, which rated him as one of the top candidates for the spot that ultimately went to Sarah Palin. The advantages to picking Pawlenty do not end there. He and his wife, Mary, also enjoy a close relationship with Romney and his wife Ann.
Another former Pawlenty aide said the friendship dates back longer than just this past year.