Pawlenty Distances Himself From McCain On Bridge Collapse

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the young national co-chairman of John McCain's campaign, is considered one of the leading candidates to join McCain on the 2008 Republican presidential ticket.

But Pawlenty, who is said to have a good personal relationship with the presumptive GOP nominee, is publicly distancing himself from McCain's comments on Wednesday concerning the Minneapolis bridge collapse last summer.

As the Associated Press reports, McCain had this to say yesterday: "The bridge in Minneapolis didn't collapse because there wasn't enough money. The bridge in Minneapolis collapsed because so much money was spent on wasteful, unnecessary pork-barrel projects."

Pawlenty characterized those remarks as McCain's opinion.

"We have to let the [National Transportation Safety Board] weigh in on this before anybody can make a final conclusion," Pawlenty said. An NTSB report on the matter is expected to be released later this year.

As the AP notes, "Pawlenty struck a much different tone [regarding McCain's comments] than he took when reacting to political foes who previously questioned the role of deferred maintenance in the collapse that killed 13 people and injured 145."

In January, Pawlenty said critics should "quit using the bridge, quit exploiting the bridge tragedy to advance their political agenda."

UPDATE: McCain today backed off his earlier comments. "No, I said it would have received a higher priority, which it deserved," he told reporters in Cleveland.