As Tim Pawlenty Steps Into Presidential Race, Democrats Step Up Attacks (The Note)

May 23, 2011 8:52am


For a while now, Tim Pawlenty has been chomping at the bit to jump into the presidential race, and today he made it official in an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I’m running for president because I can tackle and fix the budget deficit and the debt and get this economy back on track. That’s what I did in Minnesota and that’s what I can do for America,” Pawlenty told George Stephanopoulos in an interview this morning.

Later in Des Moines, Iowa, Pawlenty plans to highlight what will be a central theme of his campaign –that it’s “time for truth.”

“President Obama's policies have failed,” Pawlenty plans to say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks. “But more than that, he won't even tell us the truth about what it's really going to take to get out of the mess we're in. … I'm going to take a different approach. I am going to tell you the truth.”

So eager was Pawlenty to start talking about his campaign that he pre-empted his own announcement, releasing a video last night in which he declared he was running for president. “We need a president who understands that our problems are deep and who has the courage to face them,” he said in the clip, “President Obama doesn't. I do.”

(Note: In a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll Obama led the former governor by 15 percent in a head-to-head match-up, 53 percent to 38 percent.)

And as ABC’s Matthew Jaffe points out, the Democratic National Committee released a new video this morning arguing that Pawlenty needs to do more than just say he's in the race — he needs to explain why.

The new DNC spot makes the case that he can't run on his track record as governor or as a Tea Party candidate or as a moderate alternative to the Tea Party. And it concludes by surfacing an answer he gave to Time Magazine’s Michael Crowley who asked Pawlenty about the moment he thought he could be president. "I don't know,” Pawlenty said. “I wish I had a better answer for you.” In their video, the DNC exclaims, “So do we!”

Pawlenty’s choice of Iowa as the venue for his announcement today speaks volumes about his strategy heading into the primary season. Pawlenty's team is hoping to use a strong showing in Caucuses there to sling-shot him to nomination.

“Any serious presidential candidate needs to do well here,” Pawlenty told Stephanopoulos, who asked him about the stakes for his candidacy in Iowa. “I don’t know that you need to win it but you need to do well here.”

Iowa Gov. Terry told Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz that Pawlenty’s “putting together quite an organization" in his state. "He’s got the same headquarters that I had for my campaign,” Branstad said. “He’s also very humble, hardworking, down to earth. That sells well in Iowa. He’s spending the time, and he’s putting together a pretty impressive group of people for his campaign.”

On “Good Morning America” today, Pawlenty also defended his record as governor of Minnesota — a record that will be picked over by Democrats and his GOP rivals alike during the primary season.

“During my time as governor every time that budget was balanced — it has to be under the Minnesota constitution,” he told Stephanopoulos, “and even now since I left office the last budget cycle ends this summer it ends in the black.”

As part of his presidential roll-out, Pawlenty will travel to Florida on Tuesday and then Washington, DC on Wednesday. But despite his attempt to make a big media splash, he’s still showing up in the low single digits in most national polls. With the recent exits of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee from the 2012 field, however, ABC’s Rick Klein notes that there’s “a chance for some of the folks who are running to get second — or, in some cases, first — looks from Republican activists and primary voters.”

Even so, Pawlenty's official announcement today is getting overshadowed by the devastating tragedy in Joplin, Missouri. The goal of an official kick-off is to get a second bite at the publicity apple, but it’s hard to break through on a day like this.

BOTTOM LINE: With the Pawlenty entrance and the Daniels exit, the 2012 field is quickly settling down and this is what it looks like: Mitt Romney is the frontrunner, while Huntsman and Pawlenty battle it out to be the Romney alternative. We may still see a surprise candidate, but it's getting harder and harder for us to believe that it will happen. Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann are the wild cards. Bachmann could give Pawlenty trouble in Iowa but her path beyond the Hawkeye State may be tougher. For those keeping score at home, there are now five Republicans officially in the race: Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Rep. Ron Paul.

PAWLENTY’S BIGGEST PROBLEM…  “Pawlenty almost certainly will be asked again about his ability to compete financially with Mitt Romney, the Daddy Warbucks of the truncated Republican field,” Walter Shapiro writes in The New Republic. “Pawlenty recently answered that query with a nod to GM’s venerable product line: ‘Our goal is not to keep up with Mitt. Our goal is to raise enough money to have at least a Buick, if not a Cadillac-level, campaign.’ But even a Buick campaign (with the usual high-priced accessories like strategists, media consultants, pollsters and press handlers) could easily cost a minimum of $40-$50 million. … And here lies Pawlenty’s problem: To run a competitive campaign, T-Paw will be forced to spend long hours each week ingratiating himself with wealthy donors in places like Houston and Atlanta. But in this cycle’s foreshortened campaign season, Pawlenty cannot afford to shirk even a minute of the face-to-face politics that have proven essential to winning the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. In other words, in a race where time will likely be of the essence, Pawlenty has dangerously little of it to go around.”


MEASURING THE RYAN EFFECT. When asked to assess the political implications of his budget and Medicare overhaul plan on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., told host David Gregory:  “Look, I'm not a pundit, I'm a policy maker. I'll let you and your panel figure that out, and that's up to the voters to figure this stuff out.” Come Tuesday they will.

It’s dangerous to read too much into one special election. But, it's not a stretch to say that tomorrow’s special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District is the proving ground for the political consequences of the Ryan plan. A poll out this weekend by Siena College put Democrat Kathy Hochul up over Republican Jane Corwin by four points in the race. Insiders on both sides see a Hochul victory as likely –though not a given. A win by Hochul will be seen as a referendum on Ryan's budget blueprint, especially its controversial plan to restructure Medicare.

The three top issues for voters in the district are Medicare (21 percent), jobs (20 percent) and the budget deficit. Hochul is crushing Corwin on the issue of Medicare, taking 74 percent of those voters. Voters who picked jobs are evenly divided between the two candidates while Corwin takes 60 percent of the vote from those who picked the deficit as their main issue. The other problem for Corwin is the fact that while support for self-described Tea Party candidate Jack Davis has collapsed, his one-time supporters aren't flocking to the Republican.

Need more proof? Check out Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown’s Op-Ed today in Politico: “While I applaud Ryan for getting the conversation started, I cannot support his specific plan — and therefore will vote ‘no’ on his budget. … I have made boosting jobs, reducing spending and repairing our economy my top priorities in the Senate. … But I do not think it requires us to change Medicare as we know it. We can work inside of Medicare to make it more solvent."

And on the campaign trail in South Carolina this weekend, Mitt Romney, took pains to distance himself from the proposal (though not quite as — forcefully — as Newt Gingrich did last week.) “The Ryan plan and my plan are on the same page. We have the same objectives. My plan is different than his — it's not identical,” Romney said.


ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.”  ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter interview Bobby Kennedy Jr. and Director Bill Haney to discuss their film “The Last Mountain,” which chronicles the effects of coal removal in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley. Also on the program, actress Jessica Alba, who will talk about her work to promote the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. 


TRUMP: BACK SO SOON? Is Donald Trump rethinking his presidential no-go? ABC’s Rick Klein points out that on Fox News this morning, Trump phoned in to bemoan the state of the Republican field, and was particularly upset that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee got out of the race (he said he’s sure Huckabee could win, and he’s still sure he could have won). And he pointedly refused to rule out a late entry into the Republican presidential field. “Who knows if I did the right thing,” Trump said. “I am not seeing a lot out of the Republican candidates." Any chance he jumps in later in the race? “I can't rule out anything… vital that we choose the right person, and at this moment, I don't see that person.”


SMALL BUSINESS GROUPS FIGHT HEALTH CARE PROVISION. More than two-dozen small business groups have banded together to form the “Stop the HIT” coalition, which is dedicated to repealing the Health Insurance Tax (HIT), a provision of the health care reform law that will take effect in 2014. “For the small business community, controlling the increasing costs of health insurance premiums has been the top concern for decades,” National Federation of Business President and CEO Dan Danner, who is helping to lead the charge, said in a statement announcing the new coalition. “This new tax will be almost entirely passed from insurers to small businesses and their employees, raising health care costs and increasing economic uncertainty for this vital sector of our economy.” The group estimates that the tax will cost small business owners, their employees and the self-employed $87 billion in the first ten years. “Stop the Hit” will be a comprehensive national campaign active in states and districts where lawmakers need small business support. There will be a Capitol Hill component to the effort and the group plans to “generate grassroots support for repeal of the HIT by educating policymakers and activating its members who will be directly impacted by the pending tax.”

FORMER PALIN AIDE WRITES TELL-ALL BOOK. “A former member of Sarah Palin's inner circle has written a scathing tell-all, saying Palin was ready to quit as governor months before she actually resigned and was eager to leave office when more lucrative opportunities came around,” writes the AP’s Becky Bohrer. “‘In 2009 I had the sense if she made it to the White House and I had stayed silent, I could never forgive myself,’ Frank Bailey told The Associated Press. Palin's attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. ‘Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin: A Memoir of Our Tumultuous Years’ is due out Tuesday and based on tens of thousands of emails that Bailey said he kept during his time with Palin. It began with working on her 2006 gubernatorial campaign and continued through her failed run for vice president in 2008 and her brief stint as governor. The Alaska attorney general's office has said it's investigating Bailey's use of the emails. Executive ethics laws bar former public officials from using information acquired during their work for personal gain if the information hasn't been publicly disseminated. … Billed as the first Palin book by a former aide, ‘Blind Allegiance’ bolsters the perception of Palin as self-serving, while casting Bailey as her enforcer — willing to do the dirty work, no questions asked.”

DEM STRATEGY: POISONING GOP CANDIDATES WITH PRAISE. “Democrats are hoping to put their imprint on the 2012 Republican presidential primary with an unlikely weapon: the hug,” ABC’s Devin Dwyer reports. “Leading Democrats have spent the past few weeks embracing several leading likely GOP candidates and showering them with praise for holding Democrat-favored positions on an array of key issues. President Obama credits former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with creating a model for Democrats' health care reform law that includes an individual insurance mandate. … Members of the Obama administration have been praising former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman for his role as part of their diplomatic team, before he decided to call it quits to possibly run against his former boss. … And then there's former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who drew unlikely applause from congressional Democrats last week after calling Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's controversial plan to overhaul Medicare ‘radical.’ … Democratic strategists say the public affection for Republicans is a deliberate attempt to highlight GOP moderates at a time when many primary voters are looking for conservative ideological purity.”

INSIDE THE MITCH DANIELS DECISION. “On Friday, the pieces were coming together nicely for a Mitch Daniels-for-president campaign. Some top potential staffers were told they would have a job, and to keep their powder dry just a little bit longer. Several Washington Republicans expected a declaration in the next few days. But instead of an upbeat notification detailing kick-off plans, close Daniels allies were surprised to wake up Sunday morning to an email from the Indiana governor saying he would forgo a run. The lucky few – like conservative commentator George Will, a Daniels friend – got a personal call the day before,” Politico’s Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin write. “Daniels’ message by voice and in writing was the same – his wife and their four grown daughters had veto power on a campaign, and they had exercised it. If anyone wondered about the depth of Cheri Daniels’s concerns about the prying eyes of the public, those questions were more than answered in a string of stories and columns focused on her and her husband around the time of her May 12 speech at an Indiana Republican Party dinner. Those family concerns clearly weighed heavily on the Daniels clan, and ultimately won the day. ‘I guess I had always hoped and believed they would find a way, that the governor and his family would find a way to accommodate this run,’ close friend Tom Bell told POLITICO. ‘But I think that was wishful thinking of my part.’”

 WHITE HOUSE WATCH: After flying overnight President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are in Dublin, Ireland on the first day of their week-long, four-country European trip. Obama met with President McAleese of Ireland and Dr. McAleese at the President’s Residence this morning.  The President also held a bilateral meeting with Taoiseach Kenny of Ireland at Farmleigh. In the afternoon, the President and the First Lady will travel to Moneygall, Ireland where Mr. Obama will meet with distant relatives and tour the town where his great, great, great grandfather was born. “He's very excited to see this small town in Ireland from which he has roots,” Deputy National Security Advisors for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes said previewing the visit. Afterwards the President and the First Lady will then return to Dublin where Mr. Obama deliver remarks at an Irish Celebration at College Green in Dublin, Ireland. (ABC’s Sunlem Miller).

ABC's Jake Tapper reports from Dublin that during his visit to Farmleigh House in Dublin, Ireland, today, President Obama was given a hurling stick by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. "The Irish outdoor sport of hurling has been played for more than 3,000 years. The hurling stick, or 'hurley,' is used to hit a small ball called a sliotar in the opponents’ goal. But President Obama had a different idea, joking in front of the cameras as he swung the stick that he could see using it 'if members of Congress aren’t behaving, give ‘em a little paddle, a little hurl.'"



@JoshElliottABC: A massive weather front is pushing in from the west, bearing the last thing Joplin needs now: sheets of rain. Darker, by the moment….

@rrudominer: RT @JesseFFerguson New AP Poll: "Medicare doesn't have to be cut" #p2

@HotlineJess: “The tailwind that brought" GOP to "63 margin is gone… We are back to a more normal setting” -Ex-NRCC Chair Tom Davis

@PawlentyTweets: Watch the video of Pawlenty on @GovMikeHuckabee's show this weekend #2012 #gop #tcot

@pwgavin: Ronald Reagan … now in cufflink form



* Tim Pawlenty officially kicks off his presidential campaign with a speech at the State of Iowa Historical Building in Des Moines.

* Jon Huntsman speaks at a house part in Durham, NH.

* Newt Gingrich speaks at a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast in Washington, DC.


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