Governor Pawlenty took the stage early in the evening before many of the GOP delegates had arrived at the Xcel Energy Center. Still, he received an enthusiastic reception, led by extra loud Minnesota Republicans. Pawlenty wasted no time talking up his candidate and criticizing the opposition.
"Barack Obama gives a good speech," Pawlenty said. "But the best sermons aren't preached, they're lived. John McCain's whole life is a testimony to service, duty, courage and common sense."
Pawlenty praised McCain's positions on energy, taxes and the war in Iraq. Pawlenty also linked McCain with a subset of voters he likes to call Sams Club Republicans.
"These voters are on a tight budget," Pawlenty said. "They're looking for value and accountability at the store. And they're looking for value and accountability from their government. John McCain and Sarah Palin connect with Sam's Club voters, they get it."
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It was a short speech from Pawlenty, and many Minnesota Republicans wanted more. Delegate Mike Charron of Winona liked what he heard from the governor.
"I think Minnesota's favorite son did well," Charron said. "John McCain might be our general but Tim pawlenty has always been our captain. He's a rising star for our party and for the country in general."
Delegate Tony Sutton offered a similar upbeat review of the speech. Sutton also shares the belief that Pawlenty is a rising political star. "If John McCain wins, who knows, maybe there will be a cabinet position in the administration," Sutton said. "Certainly there's a lot of work to do here in Minnesota, but like a lot of folks, maybe after two terms of John McCain, maybe Tim Pawlenty will be up here accepting the nomination in eight years. He's definitely becoming a national Republican leader."
It's not just Minnesota Republicans who are expecting big things ahead for Pawlenty. Grover Norquist of the conservative group, Americans for Tax Reform, describes Pawlenty as a national contender.
In anyone's list of who could be the next Republican president, just as in anyone's list of who would be the Republican ice presidential nominee, Pawlenty's high up on the list," Norquist said. "You're in rarified atmosphere. There aren't many people in that zone and Pawlenty's one of them."
Norquist says before McCain named Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, most top Republicans were expecting him to choose Pawlenty as his running mate.
Despite all the buzz around Palwenty, a new National Journal poll of Republian insiders ranks former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney the most likely front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination if John McCain loses in November. Romney garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, more than all of the other possible contenders combined. Pawlenty did not even make the top five in the National Journal poll.
Earlier in the day at the convention, as he made his way to another in a series of media interviews, Pawlenty downplayed having national aspirations.
"Nothing has really changed for me other than I'm a volunteer for Senator McCain," Pawlenty said. "I'm the same person, live in the same house, have the same family, have the same dog. I am grateful and honored to be governor of the State of Minnesota. I love that job. I am going to continue to work as governor of that state and as to what happens down the road, I haven't given that any thought."
Pawlenty said he will continue campaigning for the McCain/Palin ticket. He said he's also busy preparing for the 2009 legislative session and the budget proposal he'll present in January.