Pawlenty Builds Tea Party Support

Pawlenty Builds Tea Party Support

By Scott Conroy - May 3, 2011

In the still amorphous 2012 Republican presidential field, Tim Pawlenty is often pigeonholed as the GOP establishment's alternative to Mitt Romney -- the presumed national frontrunner.

A two-term governor who typically emphasizes substance over style, Pawlenty has long been setting the groundwork to run a conventional campaign. He carries many of the calling cards of the kind of "safe" GOP candidates who have, in every presidential election of the modern era, beaten back challenges from grassroots favorites who eventually fizzled out in the end.

Though he may lack the rhetorical sizzle of some of the more fiery White House aspirants, including Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain and Pawlenty's fellow Minnesotan Rep. Michele Bachmann, Pawlenty has been increasingly aggressive in his efforts to court the insurgent wing of the GOP and has fully embraced the language of the tea party.

"God made us free, and the Constitution is designed to guarantee and maintain that freedom," Pawlenty said at a tax day tea party rally last month in Concord, N.H. "The Constitution wasn't written or designed to limit freedom. It was designed to limit government."

Pawlenty's campaign strategy hinges on making an impressive showing in the Iowa caucuses, where his socially conservative bona fides, evangelical faith, and residence in a neighboring state figure to work in his favor. His reach among the party activist set in the first-in-the-South primary state of South Carolina has been decidedly more limited to this point, but Pawlenty will attend a rally hosted by the Greenville Tea Party prior to Thursday's candidates debate, in which he has committed to participate.

Although Iowa and South Carolina will both be critical pieces to his electoral puzzle, the early primary state of New Hampshire is where Pawlenty is most actively positioning himself to play well among a libertarian-leaning electorate that tends to care more about candidates' positions on finances than those on faith.

Pawlenty narrowly defeated Cain, who also spoke at the Concord tax day event last month, in a presidential straw poll among the tea party activists in attendance, and there are more subtle signs that the mild-mannered Midwesterner is making significant headway among the passion-fueled wing of the GOP.

Pawlenty's efforts to extend his reach over the last few months in New Hampshire appear to be reaping dividends with conservative activists chomping at the bit to find someone to take on an incumbent president they can't wait to run against. "I think he's working very hard to keep his cred with the establishment, but I think his own personal message is one that represents a lot of what the tea party represents," said New Hampshire Liberty Caucus Chairman Andrew Hemingway. "I think it's a very effective model for what he's doing, and I think it's going to be very interested to see how he continues to play that."

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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