Pawlenty embarks on new phase of political career

July 31 at farm in Waverly
Gov. Tim Pawlenty talks with locals at a farm in Waverly, Iowa on July 31. Political insiders say Pawlenty is likely laying a foundation for a White House bid, and he's expecting to make more stops in Iowa in the next six months.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Even though Tim Pawlenty has left the governor's office, it looks like he is far from done with politics.

In less than two weeks, Pawlenty embarks on a national tour to promote his new book, "Courage to Stand." Some observers say the tour fits right in with a 2012 presidential campaign.

For the past year, Pawlenty has been speaking at Republican gatherings around the country. And there have been several stops in important presidential politics states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Pawlenty acknowledges he's considering a presidential campaign, but dismisses talk that his book tour is part an effort to get to the White House.

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"I know everybody's trying to say that the book tour is about politics, but I think of the 30 or more days that I will be promoting the book across the country, I think only two days are in New Hampshire or Iowa," he said.

Actually, the schedule has Pawlenty in Iowa and New Hampshire for four days and six engagements.

"There may be political stops that we do, but the primary purpose of the tour is to promote the book and to try to generate interest in the book," Pawlenty said.

But Washington University political scientist Steven Smith said Pawlenty's book tour has little to do with selling books.

"You know the book isn't really the focus. The book is an excuse for being somewhere," he said.

It's also about getting on the radio, on television and in the newspaper.

Smith said Pawlenty has thus far been engaged in an "invisible campaign" getting to know Republican insiders around the country. Pawlenty now needs to court the broader base of Republican voters, and promoting a book is a good way to do that, he said.

"It'll be the motivation maybe a radio host needs for inviting the governor on to his program and then reaching that somewhat larger local audience," Smith said. "A book tour is just one step of many steps that the governor has to take in order to reach that larger audience."

Smith said Pawlenty needs to start breaking out of the low single digits in GOP presidential preference polls, especially in the next six months.

"If he's not up there in that group of six or seven candidates who are considered to be viable, he'll find that his money begins to dry up, that money will start drifting to other candidates," he said.

Early on in his book tour Pawlenty will have some high profile opportunities to promote himself, including appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show and ABC's The View. But Pawlenty said most of the media he'll be doing will be regional and local.

While Pawlenty acknowledges his low national profile, he doesn't sound concerned about it.

"This idea of name ID across the country -- if you are a serious candidate for president, whoever might run, those people will be well known over the course of time," he said.

Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, said there are top-tier possible 2012 GOP presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee and what he refers to as the "bunch of other guys."

Goldford said Palwenty has not yet made significant headway with Iowans despite several trips there.

"What he's got to do over the next few months certainly is find a way to break out and be more than just one of a bunch of other guys," he said.

Goldford said if Pawlenty wants to run for president, now is the time to distinguish himself.

"He needs to find his particular issue that he can ride and he needs to find his particular niche or constituency within the Republican Party who believe that their concerns aren't being addressed by one of the more famous or more well-known candidates," he said.

An important milestone in the 2012 Presidential race comes in early August in Ames, Iowa. The so-called "Iowa Straw Poll" draws Republicans from around the state and provides an early indication of candidates' strength.

Pawlenty said he plans to end speculation about his presidential aspirations with an announcement probably in March or April.