Pawlenty calls for freshened up GOP

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke to members of the conservative political action committee GOPAC that the Republican party needs new ideas and hopeful leaders at in meeting Arlington, Virginia, this morning.
MPR File photo

Pawlenty started his National Press Club speech with a joke, something he said was on everyone's mind.

"I know one of the questions that inevitably come is: When will the decision be made? Who will he pick? I will address that right off the top, and I will just say that I don't have any particular insights as to where Brett Favre will play next year."

Pawlenty was playing on the speculation that he could be John McCain's running mate. He has refused to say whether he's being vetted by McCain, whether he wants the job or whether he's still committed to serving his full term as governor.

Pawlenty was more open about his thoughts on the Republican Party. He said the GOP needs new ideas and leaders who are optimistic if they hope to attract what he called "Sam's Club Republicans."

"They're looking for leaders who understand their concerns."

"They're looking for leaders who understand their concerns about how they're going to want government to act like their families have to - live within their means," he said. "How am I going to get my children educated? How am I going to afford health care? How am I going to get gas into the tank of my car? And they're looking for answers in ways that are clear and simple and direct that meet their needs. The Republican Party needs to get back to that."

Pawlenty suggested some of his own ideas would appeal to blue collar voters-- performance pay for teachers, online college classes and rewarding doctors who are effective and save money.

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But while he called for new ideas, he fell back on a GOP icon as an example of how to communicate them. Pawlenty praised Ronald Reagan as the model for how Republican politicians should deliver the message.

He said John McCain and McCain's Democratic rival Barack Obama presented a positive message. But he questioned whether Obama is ready to be president.

"Less than four years ago he was a state legislator," Pawlenty said. "His oratory is one of 'We're going to tackle big, national issues.' If you look at his record, there is not one issue of major national concern that he has led the effort on."

The Democratic National Committee is questioning whether Pawlenty is fit to be McCain's running mate. The party released a Web site this week called thenextCheney.com that features Pawlenty and six other GOP politicians who may be on McCain's list.

DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said the Web site highlights how McCain's possible running mates will continue the policies of President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.

The site notes Pawlenty's opposition to embryonic stem cell research, his willingness to support President Bush no matter how unpopular the president is, and that he was hit with the largest campaign finance fine in the state's history in 2002.

"The bottom line is that no matter who he chooses, any ticket with John McCain and any ticket with one of these individuals, simply means more of the same," Woodhouse said.

Jennifer Duffy, who writes for the Cook Political report, said Pawlenty's time as governor, his conservative credentials and Minnesota's swing state status could help McCain in November. But she said the V.P. talk is all speculation until McCain makes the announcement.

"I think I'm going to invoke David Broder of the Washington Post and say that we think about this the process a whole lot," she said. "We bandy about names and their strengths and weaknesses but we're almost always wrong"

Pawlenty briefly addressed the issue at the end of the hour long event when the National Press Club host asked him, "What are the most important qualities in a vice-presidential candidate?"

"Discretion," Pawlenty replied.