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Land of Pawlenty

Can he win Iowa?

Jun 13, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 37 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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There isn’t much credible polling in Iowa yet, but what polling there is suggests Pawlenty has a lot of work ahead of him. The day of his town hall in Council Bluffs, Public Policy Polling released a survey of past Iowa primary voters that put Pawlenty in sixth place—behind Mitt Romney (21 percent), Sarah Palin and Herman Cain (15 percent each), Newt Gingrich (12 percent), and Michele Bachmann (11 percent). And yet in a head-to-head match-up with Romney, the presumptive frontrunner, Pawlenty polls better than any other Republican in the field—tied at 41 percent each. (Romney beats Palin 48-41 percent, Cain 48-34 percent, Bachmann 46-38 percent.)

Those numbers, and interviews with Iowa Republicans over the past week, suggest Pawlenty may be well positioned as the most electable non-Romney candidate in Iowa. Virtually everyone I spoke to assumes a surge from the right—maybe for Herman Cain, maybe Michele Bachmann, maybe both. But however appealing these two might be ideologically, will ever-pragmatic Iowa caucus-goers finally support them given the questions about whether they can win the Republican nomination? Mike Huckabee surged from the right to win Iowa in 2008, but he was a former governor and a far more plausible national candidate. And he lost the nomination. 

Given this, we might expect to hear Pawlenty begin to take some shots at Mitt Romney or at least start to highlight their policy differences. When Pawlenty announced, a headline in Time magazine asked: “Is He Too Nice for His Own Good?” And so far, the answer is yes. 

In an interview over pineapple and omelets last week, Pawlenty steadfastly—even stubbornly—refused to offer criticism of the frontrunner. 

After a 30-minute discussion of policy, I asked Pawlenty: “Do you trust Mitt Romney?”

“Can I jump back to China for a second?”

We laughed, I accused him of stalling, and he talked for two minutes about the need to get tough with China on trade. “I’m for free trade, but I’m not for being a chump.”

After Pawlenty got a five-minute warning on time from press secretary Alex Conant, he returned to the question. 

“Mitt Romney? Well, I know Mitt somewhat, and I worked with him when he was a governor and I was a governor. And I get along with him, we’ve socialized a bit together, and I like him. So yeah, I do trust him. I have no reason not to.” 

I asked whether he understands the skepticism about Romney voiced by some conservatives and many in the Tea Party. “I’ve read the criticism. So I understand their -arguments,” he said, taking a big bite of his omelet and offering nothing further.

Pawlenty wasn’t any more forthcoming when I pointed out that both men had been presumed presidential candidates since 2009 and asked what makes them different. 

“Everybody brings something different to the table. Each candidate has a different life story—who they are, what they believe, why they believe it. Where they came from, what roots they have in life in terms of their value systems, beliefs. Everyone is going to be different. Mine is different than Mitt’s and all the other candidates, too. Two, everybody’s going to have a record. They’re going to be different—different emphasis, different success, different frustrations. And three, everybody will have some different vision and different leadership capacity for the country. And each candidate is going to be different—not limited to Mitt but for each candidate.” So 11 “differents” but no real difference. 

“When you look at his record,” I asked, “what do you see that makes you say, ‘I need to be president and not that guy?’ ” 

“I’ve said I’m going to abide by Reagan’s 11th commandment and not whack other Republicans or at least not be the first one to whack them. I do remind people I’m an old hockey player, and if elbows start getting thrown, I’m not averse to getting in the corner and start throwing some myself. But we’re not going to start that process.” 

He added: “We’re going to try our best not to be critical of other Republicans and just to be positive and tell people what I bring to the table and let people make their own conclusions about whether it’s better or worse than the other candidates.”

Jeff Jorgensen, chairman of the local Pottawattamie County GOP, says Pawlenty’s visit got mostly good reviews, adding, “He may well be on his way to establishing himself as a first-tier candidate, but his star is going to have to shine brighter than it is right now.”

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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