Losing the mullet, angling for veep

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has a shot at being John McCain's No. 2 -- and it's not just because of the snazzy new haircut.

Topics: 2008 Elections, Republican Party, John McCain, R-Ariz., Tim Pawlenty,

Losing the mullet, angling for veep

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been active in Republican circles for years — as chairman of the National Governors Association, as the head of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign in Minnesota in 2004, as a vocal supporter of John McCain’s campaign this time around. It didn’t take long for people to start wondering if he was angling for a spot on McCain’s ticket, and rumors spread that he was a top contender for the GOP’s vice-presidential nomination.

But the real sign Pawlenty might be interested in being McCain’s running mate came in a slightly subtler form late this spring: He cut his hair. Gone was the mullet he’d worn for years, even though Minnesota media outlets and political blogs mocked him for it. As Pawlenty hit the Sunday talk shows in May and June, he sported a trim new look. You might even call it vice-presidential.

What has Republicans buzzing about Pawlenty, though, isn’t so much his hairstyle as his political style. He’s won election twice in a key battleground state that the GOP has long dreamed of taking back at the presidential level, and that will host the Republican convention in September. He’s young enough to balance out McCain’s age, but experienced enough after two terms in office to claim he’s been tested. Social conservatives like him; his pastor, the Rev. Leith Anderson, heads the National Association of Evangelicals. And week in and week out, as one of the McCain campaign’s most visible surrogates on cable news, Pawlenty is proving he has no trouble delivering sharp lines against Barack Obama with a smile. (Like other potential McCain running mates, Pawlenty has issued bland denials that he’s seeking the job, always leaving plenty of wiggle room in case he’s asked.)

“I think Barack Obama’s book ‘The Audacity of Hope’ perhaps should be retitled ‘The Audacity of Hypocrisy,’” Pawlenty said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” He followed up later with a dig at Obama and Hillary Clinton’s joint event in New Hampshire: “They shouldn’t have had the meeting in Unity, N.H.; they should have had it in Political Expediency, N.H., if there is such a community.” The attacks look harsh written out, but they flowed by smoothly in Pawlenty’s laid-back Minnesota tone. On TV, he comes across as easygoing and natural, even when he’s sticking the dagger in an opponent. Even Democrats in Minnesota credit him for being personable and friendly (though they say that doesn’t make him any easier to work with in the statehouse).

Pawlenty’s blue-collar roots also look attractive to many Republican strategists. His father drove a truck in the Twin Cities for years. Pawlenty was the first person in his family to go to college. He says he’s a “Sam’s Club Republican,” not a country club Republican, although he has hewed toward conservative economic policies since he was first elected in 2002.

“He’s been a conservative governor in a fairly liberal state, and managed to maintain his popularity pretty well doing it,” said former Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber, now a D.C. power broker who’s staying neutral in the vice-presidential sweepstakes because he’s also close with Rob Portman, another contender, and backed yet another, Mitt Romney, in the GOP primary. Weber said Pawlenty has a “Reaganesque appeal” to Republicans who know him.

But on closer examination, some of Pawlenty’s strengths may be overblown. His reputation in Washington is as a pragmatic — he’s picked some high-profile issues to break from Republican orthodoxy on, like global warming and prescription drug importation from Canada. But he’s clashed frequently with Democrats in the state Legislature, and critics say some of his splashiest ideas have fizzled out because he’s been unable to push them into reality.

“When I negotiate with him, I can always calculate what he will do based on what’s in his own political interest,” said the state Senate president, Larry Pogemiller, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, as Minnesota’s Democrats are known, and one of Pawlenty’s most dogged adversaries. “If his political interest aligns with where you got to get [on legislation], it’s easy to do. If his political interest does not align, it gets a little rougher.”

Sometimes Pawlenty’s political instincts have caused him public policy problems. Days after Minnesota’s I-35 bridge collapse last summer, for instance, Pawlenty said he’d push the Legislature to increase gas taxes to pay for needed repairs to other bridges. Once economic conservatives objected, Pawlenty changed his mind. This year, he vetoed legislation to increase the tax anyway, but the Legislature overrode his veto for the first time in his six years in office.

Moreover, if McCain is hoping that selecting Pawlenty as his running mate would help shift Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes his way, that may be a stretch. Since he took office, Republicans lost their majority in the state House, and the DFL picked up a veto-proof majority in the Senate. “He’s not been a political magician with the public,” said Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College, in Northfield, Minn. “He’s won narrowly twice, but his party has in fact marched backward.” Recent polls in Minnesota show Obama way ahead of McCain anyway, and the state may not be much of a priority for the GOP by November.

Still, the bench McCain has to pick from isn’t tremendously deep this year. Pawlenty has a pretty good mix of the characteristics McCain might be looking for. “He’s a young guy, he’s reasonably hardcore, the social conservatives like him fine, and the fiscal conservatives like him fine,” says Republican activist Grover Norquist. “I think he’d always be in your top five as [likely picks], and depending on what side of the bed McCain got out of on the day he decided, he could get it.”

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>