Tim Pawlenty's Tax Day rally in Boston didn't draw nearly as much notice as Sarah Palin's in Wisconsin or Donald Trump's in Florida. And that, in a nutshell, is his big problem. Pawlenty would like to be the next Republican presidential nominee, but nobody is paying him much mind.
In theory, the successful two-term Republican governor of Minnesota should be a political star, and he nearly was one -- but John McCain passed him over and chose Palin for his running mate in 2008. Since then, theory has succumbed to prosaic reality: Pawlenty is one of several accomplished, credentialed Republicans having a much harder time breaking through than they ever would have imagined. As much as anyone, he's the victim of the conservative electorate's sharp turn to the right and its appetite for bombast over competence and professionalism. They're not big on bombast in Minnesota.
To compete in this unfavorable climate, Pawlenty has emphasized his evangelicalism (he converted from Catholicism) and worked hard to court the Tea Party movement. In character, if not in substance, this is a marked departure from the moderate disposition he displayed as governor, and it has led to the dreaded Mitt Romney comparison -- the suspicion that he is disingenuously styling himself a hardcore conservative for crude political advantage. But Minnesotans don't quite agree. "Pawlenty is the most conservative governor we've seen in the modern era," says Lawrence Jacobs, who directs the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota. "But he had the political intelligence to not come across that way."