Just over four weeks ago, Sen. John McCain campaigned in Minnesota for Gov. Tim Pawlenty. McCain heaped on plenty of praise for the Republican governor during a rally in Blaine.
"And all of you who are here on behalf of this good and decent and fine and outstanding and wonderful governor of the state of Minnesota, thank you for being here on his behalf today. I'm very grateful," McCain said.
During his turn at the podium, Pawlenty paid back the compliments in kind.
"Our special guest, Sen. John McCain, has lived a life that is a powerful, powerful testimony," Pawlenty said. "It's a powerful testimony to courage and to character and to strength and to patriotism and and to service. It was said earlier but I'll say it again flat out. He is a true American hero and we're grateful that he's in Minnesota today."
Fresh off his re-election to a second term, Pawlenty is again showing his admiration for McCain. Both men were in Florida this week for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. Pawlenty reportedly drove to a reception with McCain. He told the New York Times he intended to support McCain if he ran for president.
The National Review Online reports that Pawlenty will support McCain's bid and is actively engaged in the senator's exploratory committee. The story also suggests Pawlenty could boost his stock as a potential running mate by coming out early for McCain.
Pawlenty has often denied having any vice-presidential aspirations. He reiterated the point last week on Minnesota Public Radio's Midday program.
"I'm committed to being governor of the state of Minnesota. That's why I ran. I love it here. I don't have a big goal or ambition to go be Washington. I've got young kids. I've got a lot of work to do and great opportunities for public service right here in Minnesota." Pawlenty said.
"But if one of the presidential candidates were to ask you to be a running mate, would you accept?" host Gary Eichten asked.
"I said I would serve out my term as governor if I was re-elected. And that's what I intend to do," Pawlenty said.
Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College in Northfield, says he's sure Pawlenty would give serious consideration to joining the McCain ticket if asked. But Schier says it's far too early for a potential presidential candidate to consider running mates. He says it's also unusually early for a governor to support a potential presidential candidate.
"I think Pawlenty believes that McCain is probably the most electable Republican," Schier says. "I also think that there's a ideological and stylistic compatibility there. And to the extent that Tim Pawlenty has national ambitions and John McCain may be successful, why not hitch your wagon to a star as it leaves the starting gate?"
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was also courting Republican governors at the Florida meeting. Other potential GOP presidential candidates include Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Republicans will nominate their presidential and vice presidential candidates in St. Paul, during the 2008 GOP National Convention.