Courage to Stand … and to run?

After seven years on campus and eight in the Governor’s Mansion, Tim Pawlenty has his eyes on the White House.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signs copies of his book on Jan. 27 in Burnsville, Minn.

Jules Ameel

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signs copies of his book on Jan. 27 in Burnsville, Minn.

James Nord

Tim PawlentyâÄôs political career began on the Washington Avenue Bridge.

As a University of Minnesota first-year, Pawlenty joined the College Republicans in the fall of 1979 and told the groupâÄôs leaders he wanted to help Ronald Reagan. Pawlenty was handed a stack of brochures to pass out and headed toward West Bank.

The following year, Reagan won the presidency in a landslide and Pawlenty switched out of pre-dentistry into a political science major.

After graduating from the University as an undergraduate and later a Law School student, Pawlenty, a South St. Paul native, began his dramatic rise through state politics. He spent most of the 1990s in the Minnesota House of Representatives and most of the 2000s in the GovernorâÄôs Mansion.

 Today, Pawlenty can still be found pushing literature to help a presidential candidate. But instead of a brochure, itâÄôs a book called âÄúCourage to Stand.âÄù And the candidate he wants to see elected is Tim Pawlenty.

âÄòSome gumptionâÄô

Two years after Pawlenty passed out Republican Party brochures on Washington Avenue âÄìâÄì a task which he claims drew insults, and even spit, from hostile fellow students âÄìâÄì he took a job on David DurenbergerâÄôs 1982 U.S. Senate campaign.

âÄúWhat you do with people like that is give them the opportunity to drive you from one town to the other,âÄù Durenberger said jokingly.

The job was PawlentyâÄôs first acquaintance with real politics, and offered him a brush with Reagan when he spoke at an event in Bloomington, Minn.

Pawlenty said that he had little time for socializing, between commuting from his family home to campus and his rigorous studies.

After graduation, Pawlenty stayed on campus and within miles of his childhood home, to attend the University of Minnesota Law School.

University of St. Thomas Law School professor Julie Osseid said she remembers PawlentyâÄôs quick wit and conservative ideology. When politics came up at the snack bar students frequented, Osseid said PawlentyâÄôs politics left him âÄúdefinitely in a minority of students.âÄù

âÄúIn fact,âÄù she said, âÄúI donâÄôt remember anybody else who was openly a member of the Republican Party. IâÄôm sure there were many other students who had that leaning, but it took some gumption, I think, to be committed to those convictions when youâÄôre in a minority.âÄù

In âÄúCourage to Stand,âÄù Pawlenty wrote that the Law Library was the site of a turning point in his life. He describes seeing classmate Mary Anderson in shorts and a T-shirt.

âÄúI thought, âÄòWow,âÄô âÄù Pawlenty wrote. âÄú âÄòSheâÄôs beautiful.âÄô âÄù

Osseid had a first-year law class with Pawlenty and a class with Anderson. She remembers PawlentyâÄôs future wife as a quiet student, but one who still drew plenty of attention.

âÄúMary was, of course, memorable because she was adorable,âÄù Osseid said. âÄúAnd IâÄôm sure half the school was in love with her.âÄù

Pawlenty certainly was. But as Pawlenty found work with a local law firm, Mary began clerking with a firm in Houston, Texas.

PawlentyâÄôs close friends donâÄôt know how much he considered leaving the state, though classmate Alan Lanners said that Pawlenty found being apart from Mary âÄúintolerable.âÄù

In the end, it was Anderson who left her job and returned to Minnesota. In 1987, a year after they graduated law school, they were married.

Working with and against the DFL

PawlentyâÄôs political candidacy began with a successful Eagan City Council run in 1989. He moved from city hall to the state House in 1993 and was majority leader by 1998.

In 2001, Pawlenty decided to run for U.S. Senate. But a call from former Vice President Dick Cheney, asking him to defer to Norm Coleman, ended those ambitions.

After Cheney’s phone call, Pawlenty considered running for governor, but decided against it, until his wife, Mary, convinced him to try. She later told him she just wanted him to âÄúget it out of his system.âÄù

Going into the 2002 Republican State Convention, Pawlenty trailed his opponent, Brian Sullivan, two to one. Pawlenty walked out of the stateâÄôs longest endorsing convention as the Republican nominee for governor.

âÄúThey were tenacious,âÄù said Tony Sutton, who ran SullivanâÄôs campaign. âÄúThey didnâÄôt give up.âÄù

The governorâÄôs office was equally hard-won, especially after a campaign finance scandal cost Pawlenty $600,000 and nearly killed his shot at election. In the end, he won by about 7 percent, defeating DFL candidate Roger Moe.

Pawlenty describes his first legislative session away from the House floor as âÄútumultuous.âÄù

A DFL majority in the Senate put PawlentyâÄôs âÄúno new taxesâÄù mantra to the test. In the end, he solved the stateâÄôs $4.2 billion budget deficit after cutting a deal with then-Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger.

They agreed that every Republican legislator would vote for PawlentyâÄôs budget proposal âÄî which included dramatic spending cuts and no tax increases ­âÄî while the necessary three Senate Democrats would support the measure.

The DFL Senate majority grew by âÄúleaps and boundsâÄù the next election, Hottinger said, mostly because people were dissatisfied with the cuts.

âÄúThe thing is, he threw the Republican members of the Legislature under the bus for his own purpose, whatever it may have been,âÄù Hottinger said.

In 2006, the same year, Pawlenty won re-election by less than 1 percent of the vote.

More controversy followed Pawlenty over that term. Ongoing budget shortfalls, an oppositional Legislature and PawlentyâÄôs hard-line policies all snowballed in 2009.

He introduced $2.7 billion in one-time cuts and delays to quash the stateâÄôs budget deficit called âÄúunallotments.âÄù Later ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, Pawlenty managed to shove the cuts through the Legislature during the 2010 session.

Although one deficit had been solved, he left a $6.2 billion shortfall for the next budget cycle to his successor Mark Dayton.

While opponents say PawlentyâÄôs approach left the state in worse shape, Pawlenty and supporters claimed victory for his ability to hold the conservative line in a liberal state.

âÄúHeâÄôs been the most conservative governor in my entire life,âÄù said Sutton, now chairman of the state Republican Party.

Law school loyalties

Since meeting him in law school, Alan Lanners, now a founding partner at Lanners & Olson, P.A. has stayed close with Pawlenty, offering to help in whatever way his friend needed. In the early days, that meant pounding lawn signs to get Pawlenty get elected to City Council.

As his friendâÄôs jobs become more important and more stressful, Lanners tried to offer a sympathetic ear and a little stress release. He was often surprised to find Pawlenty didnâÄôt mind talking about his work over dinner.

âÄúI think,âÄù Lanners said, âÄúhe was looking at it like, âÄòPolitics is my business, and IâÄôm interested in it, and IâÄôll talk to anyone about it who wants to talk to me.âÄô

âÄúIâÄôm not by any means a starry-eyed admirer of his. He and I have disagreed about issues over time as well, and weâÄôve had some spirited discussions about the merits of certain things.âÄù

Another classmate, Raymond Cantu, now a Minneapolis city attorney, has also remained friends with Pawlenty since the two met in the first week of law school. When their kids were young, Cantu and Pawlenty brought them on trips to the zoo.

Though their relationship grew through jokes which were often at each otherâÄôs expense, Cantu is fiercely loyal to Pawlenty. The loyalty goes both ways.

One Friday night in April 2007, CantuâÄôs aorta ruptured. He hemorrhaged internally until emergency room doctors used a stint to stop the bleeding. In the hospital, Cantu was visited by a series of friends. He had heard that the Pawlentys wanted to make it, but as visiting hours slipped by they didnâÄôt turn up. Then late one night, there they were, fresh from an event as the first family of Minnesota.

The painkillers he was on have fogged CantuâÄôs memory, though he thinks Pawlenty tried to crack a joke to lighten the mood.

He is sure, though, that they hugged him and said they were happy he was still alive.

Cantu said he has often been confronted on his connection to Pawlenty and has always defended him.

âÄúIâÄôve gotten a lot of grief for being friends with him,âÄù Cantu said. âÄúLike, âÄòHeâÄôs cutting this, and heâÄôs doing that.âÄô And itâÄôs like, âÄòLook, heâÄôs doing what he thinks is right.âÄô And I may not necessarily agree with everything he does, but he was elected, and heâÄôs doing his job.

âÄúHe is a good guy, and he has a good heart.âÄù

âÄòItâÄôs not politicalâÄô

Since leaving office in January, Pawlenty has toured the country promoting his book, including trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, the sites of the first two Republican primaries.

Pawlenty has barely registered in national polling and his book has sold poorly, moving fewer than 5,000 copies in its first week.

But loyal Minnesotans and PawlentyâÄôs law school friends, say not to count Pawlenty out yet.

At a Jan. 27 book signing in Burnsville, Minn., Wayne and Gwen Olson bought copies of PawlentyâÄôs memoir and spent several minutes talking to him.

The Olsons first met Pawlenty in 2007, when their son Daniel was killed in Iraq. Gwen said every major Minnesota politician called the family, but Pawlenty was the only one who came to the funeral and prayed with them.

âÄúI feel a genuineness, like itâÄôs real, itâÄôs not political âÄî that he cares,âÄù Gwen Olson said. âÄúI would almost want to say heâÄôs a friend.âÄù

According to Cantu, PawlentyâÄôs political skills are best observed in person.

âÄúThatâÄôs what our world has become âÄî itâÄôs like, âÄòWhat does he look like on TV?âÄôâÄù Cantu said. âÄúâÄòHow does he sound?âÄô And itâÄôs not really fair.

âÄúBut I donâÄôt know that âĦ you know, can he meet everyone?âÄù

Iowa and New Hampshire

In his book, Pawlenty describes recognizing U.S. Sen. John McCainâÄôs presidential ambitions even before McCain had announced them.

âÄúIf you watched his travel schedules, whom he was hiring, what he was doing, it was clear he was getting ready to run,âÄù Pawlenty wrote.

The same could now be said of Pawlenty.

He has traveled to six other states and Washington, D.C. since mid-January as part of his book tour, including a stop in New Hampshire and two in Iowa, where presidential primaries are held early. Other potential presidential hopefuls have made similar trips.

âÄúThe activity is starting to pick up for the state of Iowa,âÄù state Rep. Josh Byrnes said. âÄúYou can already start to see it.âÄù

Through the Iowa and New Hampshire branches of his Freedom First political action committee, Pawlenty spent a combined $172,000in 2010 on donations, consulting, travel and campaign compliance.

Pawlenty gave a total of $20,000 to 16 state candidates in Iowa, including $7,000 to House Speaker Kraig Paulsen.

Paulsen said he was asked for a list of candidates âÄúphilosophically in tuneâÄù with Pawlenty. Then, the money started flowing.

Byrnes said he learned of his $1,000 donation when his wife found it in the mail.

âÄúIt definitely took me by surprise,âÄù Byrnes said. âÄúIt was like, wow, here I am, this nobody 36-year-old guy in Northern Iowa that never met the governor, and now IâÄôm getting a check from him.âÄù

In New Hampshire, the PAC took a different course. Freedom First sent staffers to help with Sen. Gary LambertâÄôs and Sen. Andy SanbornâÄôs campaigns.

On top of recruiting supporters, Pawlenty has sought professional help.

In Iowa, Freedom First paid Midwest Political Professionals $17,274 for âÄúconsultant servicesâÄù between October and December 2010. Between July and November 2010, the PAC spent at least $20,000 on âÄúpolitical strategy consultingâÄù in New Hampshire.

The firm Pawlenty used, B-Fresh Consulting, was co-founded by Sarah Crawford, a senior adviser in McCainâÄôs 2008 presidential primary campaign.

Although none of the state lawmakers were willing to get behind a candidate this early in the game, all offered favorable reviews of Pawlenty.

Iowa state Rep. Joel Fry called him a âÄúman of genuine integrity and strong moral values,âÄù and many of the Iowan lawmakers said they connected with PawlentyâÄôs character and Christian faith.

But in interviews with roughly half the Iowa lawmakers Freedom First donated to, few candidates said they knew Pawlenty or his policies well. In fact, the group of legislators had only met Pawlenty a handful of times.

Both Paulsen âÄî the House Speaker âÄî and Sen. Andy Sanborn of New Hampshire said their respective states have a âÄúgrassrootsâÄù political climate that benefits Pawlenty.

âÄúYou can truly break bread with the person who might be our next president,âÄù Sanborn said.

While religion might win voters in Iowa living rooms, New Hampshire is more secular.

âÄúItâÄôs the fiscal message here. This is not the South, not the West. New Hampshire is unique,âÄù Sen. Lambert said. âÄúI can tell you, all my constituents care about is the economy, jobs and the budget.âÄù

A shift to the right

A senior Republican official said Pawlenty has a much better shot than the polls indicate. PawlentyâÄôs record on taxes, his public Christianity and his hard-line stance on health care position him as a candidate to beat.

The official said Pawlenty has the âÄúground gameâÄù to run a campaign, but needs to inspire voters like his political idol, Ronald Reagan.

Former U.S. Sen. Durenberger knew Reagan personally, and said heâÄôs never met another politician like him who perfectly fit a moment in time.

âÄúIt isnâÄôt like Reagan performed all these miracles, but he reflected a changing mood in the country,âÄù Durenberger said.

If Pawlenty is attempting to reflect a changing mood in America, it is a move to the right.

Virginia Gray had Pawlenty in her undergraduate state politics class three decades ago. She remembers him as âÄúan excellent student.âÄù

While Pawlenty was in the House, Gray was the University faculty lobbyist.

Gray, who now teaches at the University of North Carolina, described the young Pawlenty as âÄúa typical suburban Republican of that period.âÄù

âÄúHe was a secular Republican,âÄù Gray said. âÄúHe didnâÄôt have any particular religious right views on anything.

âÄúBut he certainly shifted greatly to the right over the course of his career, particularly when he decided to run for governor âÄî and while he was in office, even more so as his presidential ambitions developed.âÄù

That rightward move might be paying off: last week, Pawlenty was named the keynote speaker for the Tea Party Patriot American Policy Summit, which begins Friday in Phoenix. 

The party official, who said Pawlenty has âÄúthe full package,âÄù also noted that Midwestern states might determine the 2012 election.

âÄúA year from now, in the caucuses, heâÄôll be right in the thick of it.âÄù