A working class background who can appeal to Main Street is perhaps the most succinct way to sum up the main draw of a Pawlenty candidacy for President. He is the Governor of a “purple” state which tends to lean into the Democratic column and has been elected to two full terms in the Governor’s Office. In early statewide polling of key primary states he has struggled to make it out of what is considered the “second-tier” of presidential candidates. He is overshadowed by the joint specters of Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Here is an analysis of Gov. Pawlenty’s three perceived strengths and three weaknesses as a contender.
Where Pawlenty Measures Up:
1) Common Touch
He may be no BarackObama with grandiloquent speaches and celebrity appeal, but what Governor Pawlenty does have is an “everyman” appeal. The son of a truck driver, Tim Pawlenty was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and had to get ahead through hard work, diligence, and persistence. This sets him apart from the Romney/Huntsman set and gives him a niche from which to base his political narrative from. Most importantly, Pawlenty is not afraid to speak humbly and in a down to earth fashion. He can connect with average folks like a certain former President Bush, yet he has the life story to back it up. Drawing on this background may be one of the most powerful tools Tim Pawlenty has in his bag.
2) Executive Experience
It is no secret that candidates with gubernatorial experience tend to be the most successful candidates. The only modern exceptions to this rule are Senator’s Obama and Kennedy. As Governor of the Mid-West state of Minnesota, Pawlenty has generally proved that he can govern successfully. His tenure struck a balance between working with Democrats, but also accomplishing ideological victories. His tough love budget balancing approach at the state level will no doubt give him a leg up when addressing this essential issue at the Federal level. It remains to be seen how important this experience will really be; however, in a field made up of primarily candidates who also have gubernatorial experience.
3) Traditional Republican Ideology
While the Tea Party has energized the Republican grassroots campaigns, the national Republican Party is still composed of different, sometimes conflicting, ideological factions. Neo-Conservatives, Evangelicals, Libertarians, and Fiscal Conservatives are not always friendly bed-fellows. Any Republican candidate will have to navigate these barely veiled core divisions in order to be successful (so it is argued). In this sense, Pawlenty is very successful. Nothing he says or does is far out of the mainstream Republican Party platform. He is an Evangelical Christian himself and retains broad connections to this key constituency while at the same time taking every opportunity to ally himself with the Tea Party whenever he has the chance. He does have the fiscally conservative credentials to back it up as well. A Pawlenty candidacy checks all of the proverbial boxes ideologically for a solid presidential candidate.
Where Pawlenty Fails to Deliver:
Being plain spoken has it’s definite drawbacks. If you are looking for an eloquent articulator of conservative ideals to go toe-to-toe with President Obama, then Gov. Pawlenty is not a good fit. His speeches – while not bumbling – are mostly formulaic sound-bite driven “B-” affairs. But in addition to the speech making ability, Pawlenty also lacks that key dynamic ingredient that fires voters up. John McCain was not a great speaker by any means, but the presence of his fiery character and larger than life biography combined to deliver a crowd-drawing dynamism which excited primary voters, particularly in the key state of New Hampshire. If Pawlenty wants to be successful, he will need to step it up a notch in this department or at least minimize the significance of this drawback.
2) Name Recognition
His campaign team would probably agree, Pawlenty’s number one problem is a practical one. He is not even close to being a household name. He does not have the celebrity status of Sarah Palin or the past experience of runner for President like Romney and Huckabee. As Governor, he was solid, but not exceptional. He is generally not perceived to be on the level of all-star Governor’s like Bobby Jindal (R-LA). While being admirably “good” on a whole host of attributes, he lacks the recognition associated with one particular stand-out political event. This all being true, the Pawlenty team has been working hard to get the Governor’s name and list of accomplishments out into the general public. Polling seems to suggest that he has broken out of the virtually unknown category and into the more respectable (but still problematic) second-tier group with poll numbers barely and rarely approaching 10% in the early GOP primary states.
3) Foriegn Policy Experience
Like almost all of the credible GOP candidates currently in the race, foreign policy is an area where Governor Pawlenty just does not have much experience in. As a Governor – and before that as a state representative – Pawlenty never needed to brush up or weigh in an serious matters of foreign policy. While it was said that Obama lacked significant foreign policy experience in 2012 compared to Sen. McCain, President Obama now has the most experience (perhaps in the country) on foreign policy because of the nature of his job. GOP primary voters may look to see which candidate is best able square off with Obama based on articulation and experience on this important issue. Especially if things continue to heat up in the Middle East (and the economy recovers), foreign policy chops will become in increasingly prominent measuring stick.
Stay tuned for more updates on the GOP field for the 2012 election! Next up: Newt Gingrich….