Tim Pawlenty

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

He doesn't have Sarah Palin's pizzazz or Mitt Romney's money.

But the governor of Minnesota may be a shrewd Republican bet in 2012.

Fineman: Governor, for our year-end issue, we wanted to interview intriguing people about the future, including the future of the Republican Party. Pawlenty: And they weren't available, so you came to see me!

Yes, Sarah Palin was on book tour. What is it about her that is so fascinating? Well, I think she is a political rock star. She got enormous attention and support from a big chunk of the country as the vice presidential candidate. And she has sustained that. In part, it's because she has tapped into a kind of base-level feeling about the role and scope of government. She speaks bluntly and plainly in ways people can understand.

What is she saying about government? Amongst other things, that it is too big and too bureaucratic and too burdensome.

Well, you say the same thing. Yes, but we live in a society in which being familiar, being well known, gives you a platform. She certainly has that. The Democrats have all kinds of characters who are interesting, bold, and dramatic. On our side, you guys are obsessed with Palin.

Until literally hours before the convention, you were seen as the most likely pick to be Sen. John McCain's running mate. When did you realize you wouldn't be? When they didn't take me out of the slot to speak in Denver outside the Democratic convention only days before ours was starting. I didn't just fall off the rutabaga cart, so I figured it out.

Did McCain explain to you why he picked her? The conversation was pretty brief. I just think he felt he had to do something maybe a little different than what would have been the traditional approach. And I think he felt good about his decision.

Do you think Palin is qualified to be president? She is easily as qualified as Barack Obama. I would argue she's more qualified in terms of leadership, experience, management, and supervision--actually running something. She was a mayor, head of an energy commission, and governor.

Did she help or hurt the ticket? My view is that she helped him because she energized the campaign. She brought a fresh and dynamic perspective that I think complemented his strengths really well. I think she helped. I know there are some pollsters who take issue with that.

Some in your party want the Republican National Committee in January to vote to withhold money and endorsements from any GOP candidate who doesn't adhere to at least eight points of a 10-point conservative agenda. What do you think? I haven't seen it, but just as an approach, rather than having a one-size-fits-all national dictate, we should just try to ensure that each state has an open, transparent, and user-friendly process for Republicans to pick their candidates and platforms, and then not interfere with the results.

How would you describe the state of the Republican Party? Improving.

But only a small percentage of voters call themselves Republicans, even though Obama's numbers are down and the economy is weak. Why? The Republican brand has been badly damaged. We're the marketplace party. So we believe in markets. The ultimate measure of the marketplace is an election, and for the last two election cycles the marketplace has been telling us they prefer the products and services of our competitors. We've gotten our butts kicked in 2006 and 2008. And I think for good reason. You can't say you are going to be fiscally disciplined and then go to Washington and spend like crazy. You can't say, "We are against corruption and bad behavior," and then engage in corruption and bad behavior! I mean, people aren't stupid. They kind of figure out whether your actions and results match up to your rhetoric or they don't. Now we've got an opportunity to reestablish the brand. People are migrating away from President Obama and the Democrats, but they are labeling themselves independent or conservative--not necessarily Republican. …