Tim Pawlenty Sat on Secret That It Wasn't Him

His driveway, front lawn etiquette never wavered despite VP rejection, again.

August 13, 2012, 9:45 PM

Aug. 14, 2012— -- Tim Pawlenty was passed over as a presidential running mate twice. But to a reporter sitting on his front lawn during what must have been a difficult time -- getting passed over to be Mitt Romney's running mate and not being able to tell anyone about it -- he was a nice guy and a gentleman.

I spent 11 days on a veepstakes watch with the former Minnesota governor. From the front seat of my rental car, I watched him walk his dog, encountered a dance team practicing on his front lawn and was even offered an ice cold beer from the man known as T-Paw.

A private citizen might look at the treatment as stalking or at the very least creepy. Most people would complain about the grass being trampled or the lack of privacy.

But Pawlenty stayed friendly even when, in hindsight, it was clear he knew he didn't get the job. He was also just one phone call away in 2008 but Sen. John McCain decided to go with Sarah Palin. The rest is history.

Eagan, Minn.

In mid-July, I pulled up outside of a beautiful, but modest gray-colored home in the Minneapolis suburb of Eagan. It was supposed to be the home of a vice presidential contender, but there were about 20 kids doing aerobics on the driveway.

A mistake? No, it was the right house, but the Pawlentys had lent the front of their home to the camp at which their eldest daughter worked.

Shortly after the kids left, Tim Pawlenty, dressed in a white T-shirt and baseball hat, came out to walk his 8-year-old-dog, Mazy.

A Beer and Hardware Hank

Pawlenty, 51, holds no public office and employs no staff, so if you have a question, you ask Tim Pawlenty. It's a no-frills process that could be initiated when Mazy came outside to do her business or really anytime he pulled out of his driveway.

And it's a marked difference from dealing with a cadre of press aides and communications directors. Despite the chatter among political pundits that he would have been the "boring" pick, Pawlenty is actually quite funny.

On day two of the stakeout, he came to say "Hi," and brought assurances that there were no clandestine meetings with anyone from Boston, stressing throughout our time together that he was "telling it to you straight."

He did offer me a cold beer, although, as a working journalist behind the wheel of a parked car, I was forced to decline.

On day three, hours of air conditioning and laptop charging led to a dead car battery. And despite seriously considering asking Pawlenty for a jump, your unbiased reporter called the car rental company.

"Does ABC have no sense of humanity?" Pawlenty asked on day four, pulling up in his gray Ford Taurus and noting that reporters who stake out vice presidential candidates spend an awful lot of time in hot, parked cars. "Need anything from Hardware Hank?" he asked, driving off.

'We'll Know Soon Enough'

Pawlenty soon started his active surrogate duties up and held two events for Romney in North Carolina. He greeted me and another reporter who had been sitting outside his home with, "It's my neighborhood friends," including a smile.

I returned back to Minneapolis a little less than a week later, which turned out to be the day Romney broke the news to him. You'd never have known it. The next day he was still being the hard-working surrogate and campaigned for Romney in Michigan. That day, just five days before the announcement, Pawlenty told reporters, "We'll know soon enough."

He knew it wasn't him, but never let on, instead rattling off a long laundry list of could-be candidates, naming now-running mate Paul Ryan last before mentioning Gen. David Petraeus, the director of the CIA.

New Hampshire and Pretzels

Pawlenty, joined Friday by wife Mary, landed at Boston's Logan Airport and told reporters he was headed straight to New Hampshire and not to a secret meeting at Romney headquarters. He and his wife had stopped at the Auntie Anne's pretzel stand in the terminal and were raving about how the mini-pretzels were covered in cream. The quite petite Mary Pawlenty, dressed in a white shirt and jeans, offered me a taste.

I declined. At this point, I was down a beer and cream-covered pretzels.

From Auntie Anne's, the Pawlentys made their way to a fundraiser at a mansion in Durham, N.H., on the sea coast. While reporters waited in cars in the driving rain, attendees were driven from a parking lot up to the house.

Cocktails were $2,500 a person while dinner, held at a second location, was $50,000 a couple. A sighting of Tagg Romney and two of his children led to a short, rain-soaked conversation. It was not apparent that in a few hours the identity of his father's running mate would be known.

The Chase

Outside the second part of the fundraiser at a local restaurant, it was getting very late. I did think it was strange that the headliner would be the last to leave, but at 11 p.m., the Pawlentys left and I followed. I now realize the timing of his departure was planned to try and elude the yawning reporters parked out front.

Just five minutes after we hit the road, the Romney campaign tweeted they would announce the running mate the next day in Virginia, and Pawlenty was being driven on a dark, windy New Hampshire road with reporters in hot pursuit. It still wasn't clear who would be picked, although signs were pointing to Paul Ryan, not Tim Pawlenty.

I realized that if I wanted to be alive to find out who it was, I had to put away my BlackBerry and iPhone, which I did, but I made a quick call to a source first. It was true, it was going to happen the next morning, but she couldn't tell me one thing more.

I realized I had to stay with Pawlenty because even if it wasn't him, and that looked likely, I needed him to tell me that and I had an hour of windy, dark roads in front of me.

It escalated from there. They were trying to lose us, increasing their speeds while me and another reporter stayed in close pursuit. In downtown Manchester, just minutes from the Hilton Garden Inn, I lost him.

I pulled into the hotel and there were two other reporters waiting for him, but he hadn't arrived. We figured this meant he might have gone to the airport because he was most certainly ahead of us. I hesitated and two minutes later he pulled up.

Although this very well might have been one of the harder moments in his life -- telling reporters for the second time it wasn't him -- he didn't just rush by. He stopped with his wife to talk to us and he told us straight out that he was not Romney's choice.

"I'm keeping my schedule tomorrow so I won't be in Virginia and now we just have to wait for Gov. Romney to announce his pick," Pawlenty said, standing next to his wife.

His last words before entering the hotel were, "Now you can get on with your life." Mary Pawlenty, dressed in a beautiful teal dress, added, "And you can stop following us."


'Go Get Some Scoops!'

Calling Pawlenty the next day did not reach the governor, but his voicemail, which said, "Hi, you've reached Tim."

He soon texted back: "Shush, yes Mitt called last Monday."

He had known the entire week that he wouldn't be picked, after all.

"Pleasure to get to know you and I wish u all the best as your career moves forward," he wrote. "Hope you enjoyed MN. TP," read the rest of the text from the nicest man in politics.

I wrote back thanking him for the text and how easy he was despite the constant trailing and endless questions. He wrote back, "Thx much and go get some scoops!"

I assured him that I would try and if he ever had any, he knew where to find me, and it wouldn't be in his driveway.