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Pawlenty Rising

Via FiveThirtyEight, I see this U.S. News item suggesting Pawlenty may now be the leading candidate to be McCain's VP. According to the item:

We may be at the flavor-of-the week point in the vice presidential sweepstakes, but that flavor right now for Team McCain is the environment-loving, hockey-playing governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty. That tidbit is courtesy of a high-ranking McCain campaign official and reflects what I've been hearing of late among GOP activists. (John McCain is in the Twin Cities today for a town hall meeting and a fundraiser.)

Internal McCain polls show that adding Pawlenty, 47, to the ticket would help McCain win not only Minnesota but also the neighboring state of Wisconsin. Both are close swing states. In 2004, John Kerry beat President Bush by 3.48 percentage points in Minnesota and 0.38 percentage point in Wisconsin. In 2000, Al Gore beat Bush by 2.4 points in Minnesota and 0.22 in Wisconsin. [emphasis in original.]

Sean at FiveThirtyEight is pretty skeptical of this polling--and the geographic case for any running mate (as am I). He also speculates that the source of the item is a Pawlenty backer within the McCain campaign trying to give him a boost. So it should be interpreted in that spirit.

All of that said, I still think Pawlenty is McCain's best bet, for reasons I laid out in this post and in my recent Pawlenty profile.

Relatedly, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has spent the last two days weighing the pros and cons of a Pawlenty pick, and has long considered him as the odds-on favorite for the job.  

One of the knocks on Pawlenty, says Cillizza, is that "Pawlenty has an almost non-existent political operation either in the state or nationally." He writes:

Vin Weber, a former Congressman from Minnesota and Pawlenty advocate, explained that the governor is an "Eagle Scout" on matter of ethics -- including separating his governance from his political career. "That impedes his ability to build a political organization," acknowledged Weber.

I've heard similar things. Actually, former Pawlenty aides and advisers told me there were two reasons for the absence of a political organization: One is that Pawlenty way overcompensated in the aftermath of the minor scandals that embroiled him early in his administration (see my piece for details). I can actually personally attest to this. When I first called his press office to say I was writing a profile, I was politely informed that Minnesota has extremely strict laws separating political and official activity, and that the governor’s office couldn’t participate in anything that hinted of politics. When I asked if there was anyone else I could talk to, an aide said, "Yes, but I can’t tell you who they are."

The other reason Pawlenty has struggled to build a political operation is that, while extremely bright and able, he's something of a micro-manager. In fact, his refusal/inability to delegate authority has cost him some political talent over the years. Some of the same former aides and advisers I talked to had left him out of frustration over this.  

--Noam Scheiber