Sports fanatics like to fantasize. There are fantasy teams for baseball and football, and brackets for March Madness at the end of basketball season. As the presidential election gears up political junkies are handicapping the race and developing fantasy teams of their own.
A straw poll at the recent Pennsylvania Leadership Conference conducted by the web site parevolution.com yielded a surprise win for former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Herman Cain, the charismatic former chairman of Godfather's pizza came in a close second. Cain, is a darling of the conservative movement, so his showing was somewhat expected.
Groundwork for the Pawlenty victory in the straw poll was laid by the event's featured speaker, Dr. Charles Krauthammer, who told the assembled conservative activists that to beat President Obama the GOP doesn't need a flashy candidate, but rather a somewhat boring candidate whom the voters will view as competent and capable of leading the nation during increasingly challenging times.
Dr. Krauthammer didn't mention Pawlenty by name, but the politically astute crowd got the message. The Fox News analyst may or may not have swayed the vote, but he likely reinforced perceptions of Pawlenty as quietly competent while allaying concerns over his ability to stack up against the flamboyant oratory of Barack Obama in the General Election campaign.
Although Republicans and conservative activists generally view President Obama as beatable in 2012, the fantasy candidate game tends to focus on reasons why each of the potential candidates cannot win. Mitt Romney has the millstone of Romneycare hung around his neck. Newt Gingrich is the smartest man in the country, but will social conservatives overlook his personal transgressions? Sarah Palin is polarizing. Rick Santorum is too socially conservative; ditto Mike Huckabee.
That brings us to Governor Pawlenty. The main rap against him is that he initially supported a state version of cap and trade, a position from which he quickly retreated. Aside from that the Minnesotan appears to have few negatives and incites no visceral negative reactions from activists and voters. He is, in many ways, the least objectionable candidate.
But, Pawlenty also brings a host of positives to the table. A former two-term governor of a major state, he has proven ability to govern. Obama's inexperience at governing has undermined his presidency, leading to his party's massive repudiation at the polls last November. There appear to be no major skeletons in his closet making Pawlenty acceptable to both social and economic conservatives. He is not viewed as a hard Right candidate, which will allow him to appeal to the independent voters who have soured on Obama. And, he comes from the upper mid-west, a region that with a bit of nudging could end up in the Republican electoral column in 2012.
By most accounts Pawlenty was on John McCain's short list in 2008. But losing that to Sara Palin may be for him the equivalent of Senator John Kennedy's failure to snag the 1956 vice presidential nomination to run with Adali Stevenson. Stevenson chose Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, who was never heard of again. Kennedy rebounded to become the nominee — and president — in 1960.
As for that "a bit boring" problem, that can be cured with the running mate pick. Pawlenty could spice up the race by naming U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to the second slot. Rubio is young, telegenic, exciting, and another fresh face. Being of Cuban descent, he would appeal to the growing and electorally pivotal Hispanic vote. It would also ensure Florida's electoral votes end up in the GOP column. Although he would have just two years of service as a U.S. Senator, that is clearly not an issue the Democrats — and Barack Obama in particular — can exploit.
The selection of Rubio would also say a lot about Pawlenty as a leader. It would show he is confident enough in his own abilities to pick a running mate with more charisma. It would show he was politically astute enough to select someone who could bring electoral votes to the ticket. And he would demonstrate he would do whatever was necessary to win.
A Pawlenty-Rubio ticket would have it all: gravitas, proven experience, youth, excitement, appeal to Hispanics and independents, competitiveness in key electoral regions, and acceptance by the party's conservative base. And so, my entry into the 2012 Presidential fantasy sweepstakes is Pawlenty-Rubio. I am also predicting the Phillies will win the World Series and the Steelers will avenge their Super Bowl loss.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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