Pawlenty: 2012 veepstakes like "a little bit of deja vu"

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks during a rally for Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at Freightmasters February 1, 2012 in Eagan, Minnesota. Romney won the Florida primary January 31, and now his campaign moves onto Nevada's February 4, contest.
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Tim Pawlenty
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

(CBS News) "A little bit of deja vu."

That's how Tim Pawlenty described the speculation surrounding his future in an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday. The former Minnesota governor is widely presumed to be a finalist in Mitt Romney's search for a vice president, the exact same position he was in four years ago. Back then, Romney was his chief competition to join the GOP ticket with Sen. John McCain -- until McCain decided at the last minute to go with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Now, Pawlenty is staying quiet about the prospects. "Which call is that?" he asked host Andrea Mitchell, after she inquired if he'd gotten "the call" from Romney or his staff.

"Well, I am in contact with Gov. Romney from time to time, but this week I'm focused on some yard work and some business things," Pawlenty said. He promised that the process will "unfold in due course," and said he can't comment for now.

He can carry on his surrogate duties, and he did -- defending Romney against charges that he should release more than two years of tax returns.

"That's basically been the standard for Republican nominees for president," he said. When Mitchell noted it was on the low end, Pawlenty countered: "There's no allegation or insinuation of wrongdoing.... Why would Mitt Romney be held to a different standard than almost any other Republican nominee for president? I think going back a couple years is reasonable."

President Obama's campaign quickly disputed Pawlenty's assertion that two years was standard, pointing to several presidents or candidates who went far beyond that number. George Romney, Mitt's father, set the precedent for disclosure by releasing 12 years of returns during his 1968 presidential bid. Obama's campaign also cited George W. Bush, who released over 17 years of tax returns from his time as Texas governor through his presidency; Bob Dole, who released nearly 30 years of returns during his 1996 campaign, and George H.W. Bush, who released 14 years of returns as a vice presidential candidate.

Pawlenty said he couldn't recall the exact number of years of tax returns he provided to the McCain campaign when he was being vetted as a potential ticketmate in 2008, but said it was probably three to five.

Despite his silence on the timing of Romney's vice presidential announcement, Pawlenty gave a few clues as to what kind of vice president he would be. When Mitchell asked which running-mate teams he admired, Pawlenty cited -- off the cuff, he said -- Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

"That seemed to be a healthy, dynamic, and constructive relationship," he said. "Seems they had a good relationship and good partnership."

The two men were bitter rivals during the 1980 Republican primary but grew into a close team and lunched together each week in the White House.

Pawlenty also defended his home state of Minnesota, which hasn't voted for a Republican for president since 1972. "I love my state, it's filled with great people, but it unfortunately has the longest unbroken streak of voting for a Democrat for president of any state in the nation," he said. Still, he said, "Republicans can win here under certain circumstances, as my election has demonstrated.... Minnesota can tilt Republican in certain years."

Lest anyone prematurely write off his chances, Pawlenty added that home states aren't everything when a nominee-to-be is mulling a partner. "Geography is one of many factors that a candidate might look at," he said.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.