House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty says an unusual telephone call from Vice President Dick Cheney has convinced him to abandon the 2002 U.S. Senate race. Pawlenty had considered challenging St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman for the Republican nomination and the chance to unseat DFL incumbent Paul Wellstone. But Pawlenty says he'll step aside in the interest of party unity.
"Pawlenty's Being Exiled"
How does the political landscape change with Pawlenty's decision? Who benefits from it the most politically? Spin Cycle commentator David Erickson discusses the situation with online news editor Bob Collins. Listen online. To read more about Minnesota politics, visit Erickson's Web site, MN-Politics.com.
PAWLENTY AWOKE WITH THE INTENTION of announcing his bid for the U.S. Senate. But a morning telephone call from the White House persuaded him otherwise.
"Vice President Dick Cheney called me and said that he had been in touch with the President. And that on behalf of the president and the vice president of the United States, they asked that I not go forward with this effort and not engage in the battle against Norm Coleman and eventually against Paul Wellstone. For the good of the party, I am going to not pursue exploring the United States Senate in the 2002 election," Pawlenty said.
The U.S. Senate is currently divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, intensifying the interest in the 2002 elections when both parties hope to gain the majority. Coleman served as the state chair of the Bush-Cheney presidential ticket, and he returned from a White House visit last week saying someone in the administration had urged him to consider challenging Wellstone.
Pawlenty says a nomination battle within the the GOP could have played to Wellstone's advantage. So, he says, he's stepping aside to ensure party unity. Coleman issued a brief written statement pledging his support for whatever path Pawlenty now takes.
Earlier this year, Wellstone cited the divided Senate when he announced he'd seek a third term despite a two-term pledge. Spokeswoman Allison Dobson says it's no surprise Wellstone is a target for Republicans.
"Makes you wonder about the process - the integrity of the process - and why people show up at all these meetings and do the things that they do at the grassroots level."
- Rep. Tim Pawlenty
"George W. Bush and Dick Cheney may get to decide who the Republican candidate for Senate will be, but he sure doesn't get to decide for Minnesotans who their senator will be. It's not surprising that the White House is anxious to knock him out. But from our point of view, the people of Minnesota deserve a senator who takes orders from them and not 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," Dobson said.
Pawlenty had previously considered a run for the governor's office, but he focused attention on the Senate seat when party leaders began promoting businessman Brian Sullivan's gubernatorial bid. With Sullivan out front in the governor's race and Coleman now consolidating his senate bid, Pawlenty says he's not sure what his political future holds, but he says the apparent ability of highly-placed officials to pick nominees calls into question the influence of rank-and-file activists.
"Makes you wonder about the process - the integrity of the process - and why people show up at all these meetings and do the things that they do at the grassroots level," Pawlenty said.
GOP State Executive Director Tony Sutton says he's not concerned about Bush and Cheney's influence. Sutton says the party's focus is defeating Wellstone, regardless of who carries the banner. And he says party delegates will have the final word on that matter.
"We're neutral in this process at the state party," Sutton said. "Our activists will pick the candidate. If it's Norm Coleman, that's great. If it's somebody else, that's great as well. But the activists will ultimately pick the candidate."