Gov. Tim Pawlenty's weekend campaign activity took him to some posh towns in the Detroit suburbs, and to the economically distressed area of Flint, Michigan.
Gov. Pawlenty spoke to a group of about 100 supporters in Flint on Friday night. On the drive north from Detroit, it was hard to miss the "For Sale" signs in many yards and the vacancy signs in the office parks.
It was here that Pawlenty showcased his vision for the Republican Party. He mingled familiar jokes with calls for limited government spending and a free economy.
Pawlenty also showcased his working class roots when talking about the needs of educating the workforce of tomorrow.
"I grew up in a meatpacking town, my dad was a truck driver who lost his job when I was in high school, my mom died when I was young," Pawlenty told the audience. "I knew full well that I needed to get an education or a skill or I would be in big trouble, and it's more important now than ever."
Pawlenty stayed through the rest of the program. He shook hands with supporters, posed for pictures and even took a cell phone to say hello to a fan.
Pawlenty may be in Michigan campaigning for McCain, but he's also making a name for himself. Two of the speakers who took the podium after Pawlenty praised his vision.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop openly wished that Pawlenty, not the current Democrat in office, would be Michigan's governor.
"What a refreshing speech that was. I was really taken by that. Any time you want to come to Michigan, you are welcome here," Bishop said.
Michigan's welcome mat has been open to Pawlenty in the past year. He was named chair of the National Governor's Association in Grand Rapids, Mich., a slot held by presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee in 2005. Pawlenty has also made three campaign stops here for McCain. These trips help McCain, but they're also getting Pawlenty more than a few supporters.
One supporter is Holly Hughes, the Republican National Committeewoman for Michigan. Hughes' job is to serve as a representative of the Republican National Committee. She helps shape the party's message, raise money and find good candidates. Hughes says the governor is one of those future candidates.
"I see him as a presidential hopeful in the future. Like I said, I know that he'll either be a vice president or a cabinet member. It's definitely in his future," says Hughes. "He's young enough for it, he's bright enough for it. He has the right personality for it. People like him. They love him. He did my hometown's Lincoln Day dinner last year and they were thrilled with him."
“I see him as a presidential hopeful in the future. He's young enough for it, he's bright enough for it. He has the right personality for it. People like him.”Holly Hughes, Republican National Committee member
Like Pawlenty, Hughes is backing McCain for president. If the Arizona senator wins the party's nomination, she hopes he'll consider Pawlenty as his running mate.
McCain has repeatedly said he has not talked with Pawlenty about being his running mate. Pawlenty has also repeatedly said he will serve out his term as governor and isn't interested in higher office.
On Friday, he said his only motivation is to get McCain elected.
"People always assign motives and labels, and half of the stuff is unfounded," said Pawlenty. "There are a lot of commentators and writers and people who speculate about this, but it's simply and clearly only that I want Senator McCain to be president. I don't need or want anything else other than that, and there's no agenda other than that." said Pawlenty.
But Republican operatives are talking about Pawlenty's potential. Dan Schnur was John McCain's communications director during his unsuccessful run for president in 2000. He says he's not backing any presidential candidates this year and is an undecided voter.
Schnur says Pawlenty is probably on a short list of possible VP candidates. But he warns that too many factors come into play -- like geography and experience -- for anyone to speculate too much right now.
Schnur says, however, that it's clear Pawlenty is laying the groundwork for a possible run for higher office.
"When you go out and campaign for another candidate for president, you develop a political network of your own. You meet the worker bees. You meet the local leaders, you meet the donors," said Schnur. "It's very difficult for a governor for one state to develop a political base in another. One way to do that, the best way, is to campaign for another candidate for president."
Schnur says, like any good politician, Pawlenty may be keeping all of his options open. In the end, he says Pawlenty could decide he doesn't want to seek higher office.
If that's the case, he says he'll only lose time campaigning for someone he thinks is best suited to run the country, and will gain a whole lot of frequent flyer miles doing it.