The conference call Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty held with reporters this afternoon to give Barack Obama a rather rude welcome to his state almost didn't happen. Technical difficulties at the start made it sound like Pawlenty was speaking in a giant echo chamber, and the first few minutes mostly consisted of Pawlenty, with a weird metallic twang on his line, saying, "Hello-o-o-o-o? Operator-or-or-or?"
But whatever phone company the Republican Party uses finally got things fixed, and the rest of the call was a calm, polite but firm rejection of the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, who is kicking off the general election with a speech tonight in St. Paul, Minn., where the GOP will hold its convention this summer.
"The best sermons aren't preached, they're lived, and [John McCain] has lived a life of commitment and valor and service," said Pawlenty, who's thought to be on the shortlist of potential running mates for the presumptive Republican nominee. "That stands in contrast to Senator Obama and his readiness for the job. He is somebody who continues to demonstrate a lack of experience and judgment on a variety of matters."
His tone was pure "Minnesota nice," but Pawlenty showed he's more than willing to deploy the knife, as vice-presidential nominees often must. "Being able to read in an eloquent manner from a teleprompter is not a prerequisite for being president of the United States, and it's not a reason why we would elect a president of the United States," Pawlenty said.
Officially, of course, Pawlenty was careful to issue the required denial that he's applying for the job. "This is not related to any discussion or speculation about vice-presidential stuff," he said. (Not exactly Sherman-esque.) The Republican National Committee has started arranging calls or putting out statements from top Republicans in any state Obama visits, presumably to try to get mentioned in whatever stories local or national reporters file from swing states.
But with Obama tweaking McCain so obviously with his choice of venue, Pawlenty's turn in the surrogate spotlight took on a higher profile than most. That probably suits Pawlenty just fine.