Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) won't run for re-election in 2010, a signal that the Republican governor, who has acquired a national profile in recent years, is thinking about a 2012 presidential bid. Pawlenty will make the announcement today in a news conference scheduled for 3:00 pm ET. A source in Washington who spoke with Pawlenty said that the governor had "made up his mind a while back." Pawlenty's 2012 path mirrors the model that then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took in 2006, when he decided that he'd rather go up -- to the presidency -- or out -- meaning that he would retire from political life rather than run for re-election. MORE....
Pawlenty has remained a relatively popular chief executive of a state that is trending blue. But his "my-way-or-the-highway" stance on tax hikes may diminish his standing by the end of his term. His unflinching opposition has earned him plaudits from conservatives, but it has frustrated his Democratic state legislature. Pawlenty's name is now attached to $3 billion in budget cuts, resulting in praise from the Wall Street Journal and Americans for Tax Reform. Without re-election pressure, he's free to experiment even more.
57% of Minnesotans say they'd be open to someone else as governor, a sign that Pawlenty, although still personally liked by the voters, has worn out his welcome. Fairly conservative on most issues, Pawlenty has taken centrist stands on environmental legislation and health care; he is very frustrated with the tone his party has adopted; if, at some point before 2012, he decides to retire from politics altogether, I wouldn't be surprised.
He has played more than a bit role in the Coleman-Franken spat by refusing to seat Al Franken until Norm Coleman has exercised all of his legal options. The effect this has had on voters is unclear.
Though Pawlenty won't embrace the "moderate" label, if he enters the 2012 field, he'd be well-positioned to earn himself a good look from Republican primary voters who are dissatisfied with the direction of the party. The governor prefers the term "modern" conservative. He supports government intervention to reduce global warming and wants his party to focus on the material needs of middle class voters. He's pro-life and opposes gay rights, but he recently signed a bill that gives unmarried couples property rights. He opposes federal or state funding for embryonic stem cell research. He is an evangelical protestant.
Pawlenty's biggest asset is his personal charm; he's a nice guy, a good schmoozer with reporters (still a vital part of the pre-primary process). He's a little goofy, too, having only recently ditched his famous mullet haircut for a more conservative do.