Pawlenty's future might lie in Romney Cabinet or 2014 Senate race

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks to members of the press after appearing on Minnesota Public Radio's Midday program in St. Paul, Minn. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty appeared on a Sunday morning television talk show to voice his support for Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.

Pawlenty was also considered for the position -- just as he was in 2008 during Sen. John McCain's campaign. Pawlenty said Sunday he was not disappointed he wasn't picked for the vice presidential slot.

So what lies ahead for Pawlenty?

From the beginning, Pawlenty maintained he wasn't interested in being a vice presidential candidate. In late April, he said this on Fox News:

"Look, I've been down that road before in 2008 with John McCain and I was honored to be considered and vetted as part of that process, but I'm not going to go down that road this time. I'm not going to consider that. I've taken my name off the list, and I think I can help Mitt Romney in other ways."

Pawlenty went on to serve as a national co-chairman of the Romney campaign. Last month, he said while he would be honored to be chosen as Romney's running mate, he was not lobbying for the job.

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Political scientist Larry Jacobs says Romney's pick of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan over Pawlenty won't help sway many Minnesota voters because Romney doesn't have a substantial campaign operation here.

Jacobs, director of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, says Pawlenty's blue-collar roots might have given Romney a bigger bump in Minnesota and around the country.

"Tim Pawlenty has a kind of authentic style that plays well with a variety of voters, and it would've helped take the sheen off of the richy-rich gloss that surrounds Mitt Romney," Jacobs said.

Jacobs says Pawlenty has built up national exposure and political capital with Republicans over the past year. He adds that it means Pawlenty is still in the running for a Cabinet position if Romney wins the presidency.

"The amount of time, the loyalty that Tim Pawlenty has shown, will be repaid. The question is, what will the post be?" Jacobs said.

He says it would most likely be secretary of commerce or agriculture. If Pawlenty doesn't end up in a Romney administration, another possibility is a 2014 run against DFL Sen. Al Franken for Minnesota's junior U.S. Senate seat.

Jacobs says Pawlenty would have to be willing to shift his rhetoric for that campaign.

"The question I think for Tim Pawlenty is does he want to put in the time," Jacobs said, "and will he be able to pivot a bit from the more conservative positions he's adopted in national Republican presidential politics for the more moderate Minnesota electorate that he would have to win over."

State Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge says he would fully support a Pawlenty run against Franken. Shortridge says Pawlenty has a bright future in politics -- if he wants one.

"I would be delighted if Gov. Pawlenty at some point decides to run again for office," Shortridge said. "Clearly he brings a ton to the table and [he's] someone we'd very much love to have in the fold again. It's going to be up to him to decide if the timing's right, but we could sure use him, the nation sure could use him right now."

Pawlenty hasn't said what he plans to do, and through a spokesman, declined to comment over the weekend other than to praise Romney's selection of Ryan.

Pawlenty's longtime friend and former chief of staff, Charlie Weaver, says he wouldn't be surprised if Pawlenty decided to stay in the private sector for a while. Weaver points out that Pawlenty sits on half a dozen corporate boards and has two daughters who are about to go to college.

"My guess is he's more likely to see what happens in November, see what opportunities might emerge at the federal level from a political perspective," Weaver said, "and then decide whether he wants to go that route or stay in the private sector and see what happens in a couple years with Franken."

Weaver says Pawlenty is a public servant at heart, and at the age of 51, he still has many election cycles ahead of him.