Pawlenty Lays Out His Vision For Future

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty enjoys a laugh at the Eagle Street Grille in St. Paul, Minn., Thursday, Aug. 21,2008, Pawlenty had an evening date with young supporters for McCain in the bar across the street from the GOP's convention site.
Last month, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., told CBS News' Bob Schieffer he's going to spend the next couple of years trying "to lend voice in Minnesota and elsewhere about the future of the Republican Party, and if that that gets some traction great, if not, that's okay too."

It appears that Pawlenty, who has announced he won't seek a third term as governor in 2010, will be doing just that Thursday at the Republican National Committee's summer meeting in San Diego.

An advisor to Pawlenty tells CBS News that "Governor Pawlenty will introduce himself to an important group of Republican leaders and lay out the case for why President Obama's policies are taking America in the wrong direction."

He'll focus on three major topics, the advisor adds: the federal budget, health care and foreign affairs.

On the budget: "The Democrats say we can't restrain spending in a recession, but look at what Governor Pawlenty did in Minnesota. In his six and half years as governor, he balanced the budget every year without raising taxes, including eliminating a $4.5 billion deficit in 2005 and a $4.8 billion deficit in 2009," the advisor said.

On foreign affairs: "Having just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, Governor Pawlenty believes are troops are ready to win. It's up to our political leaders to give them the tools and support to do it," the advisor said.

And on health care: "The health care debate in Washington is more than a difference between the two parties. Obamacare replaces independence with dependence, and increase costs with the false excuse of reducing costs. Reform must include incentives for citizens to be wise health care consumers. That's what Governor Pawlenty did in Minnesota, successfully savings costs," added the advisor.

Meantime on Tuesday, Pawlenty wrote a letter to the Minnesota Congressional Delegation criticizing the current health care proposals floating around Capitol Hill.

"The health care reform bill before Congress is similar in some respects to the experiment undertaken in Massachusetts. That state's experience should caution against this approach," he wrote.

Those comments about the Massachusetts plan were seen as a veiled jab at potential 2012 rival former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., who signed it into law in 2006 when he was governor and touted its success on the presidential campaign trail in 2008 and after he dropped out.

"Health-care reform is working in Massachusetts," Romney wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on July 12, 2008.

Pawlenty denied he was targeting Romney; he says he was merely just pointing out that the program's costs are rising at a time when the state's revenues are falling.

"I want to make it clear Mitt Romney is a friend, and he hasn't been in charge of that system for going on four years," Pawlenty said on Fox News Tuesday. "And the letter doesn't even mention him by name. It just expresses a concern about that reform's failure to control costs. ... It's not a model that we should follow."

Boosting His Profile

Thursday's speech comes at a time when Pawlenty is working on increasing his national profile; he just accepted the job as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association and is widely considered a potential 2012 presidential candidate, though he says he's not thinking about that right now.

His remarks are an opportunity for him to introduce himself to Republican activists and donors from around the country. It'll also be his first in a series of speeches he'll give to the party faithful over the coming months, the next being on August 14 at GOPAC's annual summit.

In addition to laying out his ideas of how to run against President Obama, his speech is also an opportunity for him to offer up his vision for how the Republican Party should proceed.

That vision combines some of the bedrock beliefs of the GOP (fiscal conservatism, anti-abortion) with not-so-core Republican ideas (funded alternative energy projects, supported allowing patients to buy prescription drugs from Canada) and includes the idea that the party needs to reach out to independents and conservative Democrats in order to avoid getting their "tails kicked" in elections, as he put it to Schieffer last month.

Is Pawlenty Running For President?

What does all of this mean for Pawlenty's future? Is he setting himself up for a presidential run? And is he even a viable candidate?

"Pawlenty has a few advantages that, in combination, no other GOP candidate can boast," Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told CBS News.

"He's won a Democratic state twice for governor - though with less than 50 percent. He is from the North rather than the South, thereby broadening the party's geographic appeal. And he has a blue-collar background, combating the wealthy image of Republicans."

Former U.S. Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn., who is close to both Pawlenty and Romney, adds, "There's a benefit in having a relatively new face out there."

"Tim is the newest face out there. He didn't run [for president] before, he's a brand new face. There's an advantage to that," Weber told CBS News.

Pawlenty record of being fiscally conservative helps too, adds Weber, who predicts that "there will an ideological debate over taxes spending and the expansive role of government" in the 2012 race.

Perhaps, even more importantly, he's not creating controversy as he jumps onto the national stage, unlike some others in his party.

By now everyone's heard about two former up-and-comers, Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

Then there's former Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, who unlike Pawlenty, is not completing her term as governor before embarking on her political future and has received plenty of criticism for her decision.

However, the Obama machine will be in full force in 2012 and, even as some GOPers hope that the president's popularity will decline before then, right now, on issues such as the economy and health care, voters don't have much faith in the Republicans.

If that remains the case in 2012, the Republicans may need a dynamic candidate to go toe-to-toe with the president. And dynamic isn't necessarily the first adjective that comes to mind when one thinks of Pawlenty.

"Pawlenty isn't exciting, and in another year, he might not attract much attention," Sabato said. "But the GOP doesn't have a lot of good choices on the table for 2012."

It's exactly that - the fact that no potential GOP candidates stand out at a time when the party is trying to find its focus - that could wind up working in Pawlenty's favor.

But first, he's off to San Diego, to begin the long process of judging whether his message, to use his words, "gets some traction."

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.