Republican Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday welcomed his party's success in winning two races for governor, but he cautioned that the GOP must improve after election losses in recent years.
Speaking with Iowa reporters to promote an event Saturday in Des Moines, Pawlenty said the party should feel good about Republican wins in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races but shouldn't be satisfied. He noted the party had far less success in congressional races in 2006 and 2008 and lost last year's presidential race.
"Obviously we did great yesterday, but obviously 2006 and 2008 weren't great for us and we need to improve," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty, who also is vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said that the GOP candidates in the 37 governor races on the ballot next year should focus on the same broad economic theme that worked in Virginia and New Jersey.
"An affirmation of those economic policies is a terrific message," he said.
“Obviously we did great yesterday, but obviously 2006 and 2008 weren't great for us and we need to improve.”Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Pawlenty is a two-term governor who decided not to seek another term. He was among those considered to be 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain's running mate and is frequently mentioned as a 2012 candidate for the White House. Pawlenty has formed a political action committee and hasn't dampened speculation that he'll seek the nomination.
He is scheduled to headline a Republican Party fundraiser Saturday night at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, and his speech will be broadcast nationally by C-SPAN.
Despite the GOP's success Tuesday, the party lost one congressional seat in a northern New York district after an unusual race in which a conservative candidate ran because of concerns that Republican nominee Dierdre Scozzafava supported abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Pawlenty was among prominent Republicans who endorsed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, whose increasing support led Scozzafava to drop out and endorse Democrat Bill Owens.
Owens won the seat, ending more than a century of Republican representation of the region.
Asked about the loss, Pawlenty defended his endorsement of Hoffman, who also was backed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, among others. He called the process for picking the Republican nominee flawed and said it produced a disappointing candidate.
"The selection process for the Republican candidate wasn't open and it wasn't transparent," Pawlenty said.
Speaking about his own plans, Pawlenty said he hasn't decided what to do after his term as governor ends. He said, however, that his success in winning statewide elections in Minnesota, known as a strongly Democratic state, left him in a position to help other GOP candidates.
"I think I've learned some insights and some lessons that could help Republicans do better nationally," he said. "I'm very concerned about what's taking place in the country, I'm alarmed by the rate of growth in the federal government."
Pawlenty made it clear he wants a voice in the Republican Party as it moves forward with efforts to oust President Barack Obama in 2012.
And while not declaring himself a presidential candidate, he made sure to praise Iowa's presidential caucuses, which kick off the race for the White House. As governor of a neighboring state, Pawlenty would enter a caucus campaign in a strong position.
"I think it's a terrific tradition," Pawlenty said of Iowa's caucuses. "We have caucuses in Minnesota and I think it's a wonderful demonstration of democracy at the grassroots level."
Pawlenty was joined by Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn, who said the state party also got a boost when former Republican House Speaker Ron Corbett easily won office as Cedar Rapids mayor.
"As everyone knows, for Republicans to be successful in statewide elections such as governor next fall, we need to improve our performance in eastern Iowa," Strawn said. "Having those GOP leaders and their organizations on the ground in Linn County provides an incredible opportunity."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)