In Latest TV Ad, Pawlenty Campaigns on Shutdown

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Tim Pawlenty is running for president on a calm-guy/effective-manager image, stressing his record as governor of a blue state. But a new Iowa TV ad highlights a moment that puts him less obviously in a favorable light: Minnesota's 2005 government shutdown.

"Minnesota government shut down? Why? Because Tim Pawlenty would not accept Democrats' massive tax and spending demands. Result: Pawlenty won," the narrator says in this 30-second spot, which begins airing in Iowa today.

Pawlenty is the only major presidential candidate airing TV ads in Iowa. Considered a major presidential player by party strategists and media types, he has yet to make a mark on national or Iowa polls. His campaign won't say how much it is spending to air the ad.

In July 2005, Minnesota's government partially shut down for the first time in state history, amid a budget stalemate between Pawlenty and Republicans and Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislators. The shutdown lasted from July 1 until July 9, when sides agreed on a temporary deal. After DFL legislators backed away from a proposal to raise taxes on 42,000 of the state's highest-income households, Pawlenty signed a two-year budget later that month that included a 75-cent cigarette tax and increased education spending. Pawlenty and Republicans had sought deeper cuts to health-care programs.

Shutdown isn't typically the model for good governance, but Pawlenty's ad may play well among Republican primary voters who want spending cuts without tax increases. As a federal shutdown loomed in April, Republicans seemed far more willing to take things to the brink. A Pew survey showed a majority of Republicans wanting politicians to stand by their principles even if it meant a government shutdown. Democrats were 29 percent less inclined to feel that way:

Pew shutdown poll April.png

High-profile games of budgetary chicken seem to be the zeitgeist. This year alone we've seen Wisconsin Republicans squeeze a budget through the legislature amid massive labor protests, a late-hour agreement on 2011 funding to prevent a federal shutdown, and now broken-down talks over how to avoid a federal debt default. Through it all, the fiscal-conservative wing of the GOP base has demanded that Republican politicians stand by their deficit-reducing principles.

Here, Pawlenty tells viewers they can have it both ways: an effective governor, unafraid to stand for budget cuts and against tax hikes, who wins in the end.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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