by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Standing beneath his freshly unveiled gubernatorial portrait at the state Capitol last October, a reflective former Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty told reporters that he had no interest in becoming a vice presidential candidate.
If the image on the canvas winked, nobody saw it.
Pawlenty, reportedly squeezed out of the No. 2 spot four years ago by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on the McCain presidential ticket, has pundits again listing and scratching out his name on short lists of possible vice presidential running mates for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
On an appearance on CNN Monday, Pawlenty offered a finely balanced statement that neither declared nor disavowed his interest in becoming a vice presidential candidate.
“I think I could serve him (Romney) best in positions other than VP, so I’ve encouraged people to look at the other great choices that he has,” Pawlenty said. “But, obviously, anybody if asked or to be considered would be an honor.”
Former Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum, who served with Pawlenty in the Legislature and remains friends with the former governor, views Pawlenty on the “longer side of the short list” of possible Romney running mates.
Sviggum, who hasn’t spoken with Pawlenty in four months and said he is privy to no inside information from the Romney campaign, speculates the Romney short list of possible running mates probably includes a dozen names and Pawlenty’s is probably among them.
Still, Sviggum views Pawlenty being selected by Romney for the No. 2 slot as a “long shot.”
This is very different from four years ago, Sviggum said, when every indication was it would be Pawlenty, not an Alaskan governor, standing next to Sen. John McCain.
Yet Pawlenty has a lot to offer, Sviggum indicated.
He considers Pawlenty to possess one of the sharpest minds he’s ever encountered in terms of public policy, Sviggum said.
Plus, Pawlenty brings an “absolutely clean record of public service,” he said.
Carleton College Political Science Professor Steven Schier views Pawlenty as offering a mixed bag to Romney.
Having Pawlenty on the ticket isn’t going to coax Minnesota to Romney over Democratic President Barack Obama, Schier said.
But Pawlenty may have other attributes useful to a presidential candidate.
For instance, Pawlenty has the ability to attack political opponents without looking mean spirited, Schier said.
“Pawlenty may have a gift for that, and that could help Romney,” he said.
But what about the media’s favorite dig at Pawlenty, that the former governor is boring.
Just short weeks ago, in a muster of potential Republican vice president candidates that include Pawlenty, the Washington Post cited loyalty as a positive Pawlenty trait but also noted a “decided lack of charisma” in the governor.
But Schier noted charisma is subjective.
Beyond this, the vice presidential position is a separate position — it’s not the top job.
Because of this, different standards apply, Schier said.
Perhaps Pawlenty isn’t the best presidential candidate.
“But he may be better qualified to run as vice president,” Schier said.
Hamline University professor and political commentator David Schultz said the buzz over Pawlenty becoming Romney’s running mate will continue.
So will the theorizing about Pawlenty’s political strengths and weaknesses, he said.
In the final analysis, the whole issue of Pawlenty’s viability may come down to the simple question of whether Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty get along.
Are they friends?
And if so, “that maybe is enough,” said Schultz.