This is a time for bold predictions about who might be the next vice president. So I'll bet a plate of pan-fried walleye and a side of lefsa for dessert that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will be Sen. John McCain's sidekick.
At this point, you are probably asking, "Tim who?" But despite his low name recognition, Pawlenty brings the right qualifications and personal story to the ticket.
He came from a bone fide working-class family in South St. Paul and was the only child to graduate from college. He went on to law school, practiced in the private sector, and spent ten years in the Minnesota legislature.
In 2002, Pawlenty was elected governor in the state that gave us Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Paul Wellstone. As McCain's running mate, he could put Minnesota in play, as well as other purple states like Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Pawlenty has surprising appeal to a broad range of groups including picky social conservatives, prudent fiscal conservatives, and finicky Reagan Democrats.
Most importantly, there are signs that he has the support of the man making the decision -- John McCain. The CNN Political Ticker recently noted that McCain had dropped a hint that Pawlenty would be his choice when "out of the blue" McCain "told the gathering that he thinks they are 'really going to like' Pawlenty."
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reported in late July that McCain was planning to host a group of "political allies and major fundraisers" at his ranch in Arizona over the weekend.
The rumor was that "[Sen. McCain is] going to use the event to introduce his vice presidential choice to his inner circle, and then, on Monday, introduce the choice to the world."
THE TIMING WAS off but a high-level Republican operative with ties to Pawlenty and the McCain campaign told me even the "highest up on the McCain camp are in the dark for plausible deniability purposes."
That said, he strongly suggested that the choice of running mate had been narrowed down to Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and that "a safe pick would be Pawlenty" because of the strong personal relationship of the Arizona senator and the Minnesota governor.
The operative also cited some other credentials Pawlenty would bring to the ticket. As chair of the National Governors' Association, Pawlenty has spearheaded an energy initiative that will coincide well with McCain's similar plan, the Lexington Project. He described Pawlenty as an "excellent communicator" who connects with "average people well."
Romney, by contrast, is seen as lacking this ability to connect and there is concern about his appeal to evangelicals. "Everyone would agree Pawlenty has been vetted in some way," my source said.
"And even Pawlenty has changed his previous position [when he said he hasn't been asked to hand over any documents] to refusing to speak about the Vice Presidential position at all. If you're reading between the lines like some people are, this adds to the speculation."
Purposefully or not, the McCain campaign has managed to create a buzz, a slow-build up of rumors and whispers about Pawlenty as his main VP choice -- especially since Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal dropped out last month.
True, the AP reported that McCain asked for Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor for his personal records, for vetting purposes. But this move seems like the political equivalent of a macho head game.
The Obama campaign floated Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as a serious possibility and Senator McCain put Rep. Cantor out as a possibility. To the outside world, they appear to be playing chicken, daring the other candidate to make his play, but McCain may simply be signaling that if Obama tries to grab Virginia, the pick of running mate won't help him get there.
Pawlenty is a surer bet than Cantor or than any of the other names floated. John McCain likes to be seen as a maverick who's so crazy that he just might do anything, but he wants to pick a running mate who can help him win an election. Right now, just like the upcoming GOP convention, all signs point to the Gopher State.
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