Pawlenty Says, Like Reagan, He's Both Nice and "Strong"

Pawlenty Says, Like Reagan, He's Both Nice and "Strong"

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - July 7, 2011

Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty defended his "Minnesota nice" demeanor to a group of Iowans on Thursday, comparing his often-referred-to personality to that of a "civil, decent, but strong" former president, Ronald Reagan. He also implored Republicans on Capitol Hill to "stand strong" in the debt-ceiling fight and "have the showdown now. "

At a "Facebook Town Hall" meeting -- shown on the social media site -- Pawlenty took questions from both the live and online audiences. One voter said he wanted the former Minnesota governor to display his toughness more often. Pawlenty, who once worked as a criminal prosecutor, responded that while he may be a nice guy, he is prepared for a fight. "I'm an old hockey player," he said. "I've probably been in more fights than all of the other candidates."

Pawlenty said congressional Republicans need to put up a tough fight as they negotiate a debt-reduction package with President Obama and congressional Democrats that is intended to clear the way for an increase in the nation's debt limit: "The only way to get real change in Washington, D.C., is to draw lines in the sand." The candidate said he wouldn't support a temporary measure on the debt ceiling even if it incorporated spending cuts, noting, "I think it's really important to have the showdown now." President Obama met with congressional leaders Thursday to discuss the issue. He called the talks "constructive," but no agreement was reached; another meeting is scheduled for Sunday.

Pawlenty expressed to those online and gathered at the town-hall in Urbandale that they shouldn't worry about whether he could handle the job of president. "The loudest guy or woman in a bar usually isn't the toughest; usually just the loudest," he said.  Pawlenty encouraged the crowd to think about Reagan, who is often considered by conservatives as the model of leadership. With Reagan, he said, nobody confused being nice with being weak: "Look at his style of leadership: hopeful, optimistic, joyful, positive, courteous, civil, decent, but strong. You don't have to be a jerk."

The candidate also reached out to Reagan Democrats, whom he calls "Sam's Club Republicans." "You see hardworking moms and dads, people trying to get more value," Pawlenty said of those who shop at the wholesale supermarket chain.  They are people, he said, who want to know: "'Do I like you? Do I trust you? Do you have a life experience that reflects that you've walked in my shoes?'"

In a new television campaign ad released this week in Iowa, Pawlenty highlights a 2005 Minnesota government shutdown that he presided over as an example of his backbone: "Minnesota government shut down. Why? Because Tim Pawlenty would not accept Democrats' massive tax and spending demands," says the narrator. "Result: Pawlenty won."

A budget impasse in the state triggered another shutdown last week, and some, including former Vice President Walter Mondale, have blamed Pawlenty for balancing his budgets by pushing expenses into the future. Mondale, a Democrat, and former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson introduced a bipartisan committee to help end the stalemate. But Pawlenty shot back earlier this week, putting the blame on excessive spending and taxes. "Walter Mondale ran for president against Ronald Reagan on a platform that called for higher taxes. Arne Carlson supported John Kerry, Barack Obama and other Democrats," he said in a statement. "The last budget on my watch ended last week with a positive balance. The projected deficit for the upcoming two years is based on large projected spending increases, which I never would have allowed as governor." Pawlenty echoed the statement again at the Thursday town-hall meeting.

Pawlenty encouraged the attendees to participate in next month's Ames Straw Poll, an early indicator of how Iowa voters feel about White House contenders. Pawlenty has been focused on courting voters in the Hawkeye State, where he announced his candidacy in May. But despite his efforts, he hasn't gained much traction. He placed sixth in a recent Des Moines Register poll. Nonetheless, he expressed his commitment to running hard in Iowa. "I leave Iowa optimistic," he said as the town hall came to a close. "I'm going to be here for many weeks and months."

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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