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April 8, 2005
St. Paul, Minn. — The president of the national anti-tax increase group "Americans for Tax Reform," Grover Norquist, said more than anything else, Gov. Pawlenty's success in keeping his "no new taxes" pledge has caught the attention of Republican insiders around the country. Particularly, Norquist said, because Pawlenty is gaining a reputation as a successful Republican in what has been a predominantly Democratic state.
"I think it makes all of the difference in the world when you're going to people and asking for their trust if you're running for the national level to be able to say, I make this promise to you that I won't raise your taxes, and you can look at my 'X' number of years as governor as see that I can do it," Norquist said.
Norquist said Karl Rove's fundraising visit clearly signals the Bush White House has confidence in Pawlenty and considers Minnesota important to national Republican politics. Long-time national Republican activist and strategist Paul Weyrick agreed but offered some context.
"I wouldn't read a whole lot more into it because Rove is holding fundraisers for practically everybody that you could consider to be a potential candidate for the presidency in 2008," Weyrich said. "In Gov. Pawlenty's case, assuming that he's going to run for re-election, he'll need plenty of funding, and Karl Rove is a hot item."
But Weyrich added that as Rove raises millions for Republicans around the country, he's also talent scouting.
"I expect that Rove won't stay in this White House for more than a couple of years," Weyrich said. "And at the conclusion of his service to the president, I think he's going to be looking for a client to guide into the White House in 2008. And I think this may be one way that he's looking at all potential clients for himself."
Pawlenty dismisses talk about running for national office. Last month on his weekly radio show after a discussion about steroids and professional baseball with Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC, Pawlenty responded with a joke when McHenry asked him to consider running for president in '08.
"Well, I tell people I'm going to run for the president of my youth soccer league," remarked Pawlenty, laughing.
Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier downplayed the significance of Rove's visit in any national campaign Pawlenty may be considering. Schier said the White House is much more focused on the 2006 congressional elections than the 2008 presidential race. Schier said Rove's real interest in coming to Minnesota may be giving the GOP a leg up in next year's Senate race.
"I think Rove knows that Minnesota is going to be ground zero in the 2006 cycle, and having the incumbent Republican governor running well will help with the Senate race," Schier said. "I think it's really premature for us to think about Pawlenty running for president in 2008 when it's quite likely he'll have a tough re-election campaign in 2006."
And Shier said if Pawlenty is unable to get re-elected next year, there's no way he'll rise to national politics.
While national Republican strategist Paul Weyrich also cautions not to read too much into Rove's trip to Minnesota, he said Pawlenty's potential value to a national GOP ticket goes well beyond his record on the issues. "The battle for the soul of the Republican party definitely is in the Middle West, and when you get to a general election, probably the Midwest will determine the outcome," Weyrich said. "Republicans have to do well in the Middle West and having somebody from the Middle West on the ticket would definitely help with that."
Weyrich said one potential weakness for Pawlenty could be his call for more state-sponsored gambling. Weyrich said that might not sit well with social conservatives around the nation, just as it's drawn criticism from some Minnesota Republicans.
"It's not a deal killer, but it doesn't help him. And, you known, it would probably have to be overcome," Weyrich said.
Rather than discourage talk of a Pawlenty run for president, some Democrats say they welcome the speculation. The head of the Minnesota DFL party says if voters think the governor is interested in a different job it'll make it harder for him to win re-election next year.