Like a Lot of Republicans, Pawlenty Is Giving a 2018 Senate Race a Pass

The race to fill the Senate seat vacated by Al Franken looked like an obvious comeback path for the former Minnesota governor and presidential candidate. But it looks like the climate’s not right for Pawlenty. Photo: Mark Makela/Corbis via Getty Images

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was reportedly the runner-up for the second spot on the 2008 Republican presidential ticket. But John McCain was told by his pollster that TPaw did not “move the needle” for what was a losing campaign, so McCain went with the “high risk, high reward” Sarah Palin.

In 2012, Pawlenty was initially the on-paper favorite for the big prize, the presidential nomination. It made sense: He was a successful blue-state Republican governor who had helped launch the “Reform Conservative” mini-movement by saying he wanted the GOP to be the “Party of Sam’s Club,” not just the party of the country club. He was an upbeat dude who managed to stay on good terms with the Christian Right and the Tea Party. But he wound up being the first candidate to drop out after spending his entire treasury unsuccessfully trying to win Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll, which was won instead by his wacky Minnesota colleague Michele Bachmann. He was also for a moment Mitt Romney’s likely running mate, until Paul Ryan emerged as a sexier and more ideological choice.

After leaving the governorship at the end of 2014, Pawlenty landed a lobbying gig, but he’s still in his 50s, and has yet to really make that many enemies. So with Al Franken unexpectedly resigning after a sexual-misconduct scandal, and Minnesota Republicans turning their lonely eyes to TPaw as a potential savior, you’d think a Senate run would be an obvious move for a pol with little to lose and probably a lot of unscratched political itches. His state has been slowly trending red for years now, and appointed Democratic senator Tina Smith (whose first race for public office was in 2014) is almost certainly less well-known than TPaw.

But no: Pawlenty announced today that’s he not running for anything this year.

Ideology aside, it would have been interesting to watch TPaw engage once again in an effort to look somewhat bigger than his Modest-Man-With-Much-to-Be-Modest-About persona. Who can forget his introductory video ads in the 2012 presidential campaign (which I described at the time as part Transformers, part Triumph of the Will), in which Pawlenty’s bland midwestern voice tried to sound heroic?

Perhaps it’s inevitable that instead of trying to go back down the yellow-brick road to high office, Pawlenty decided to continue his exciting and fulfilling service as a bank lobbyist. Maybe it’s more fun at the country club than at Sam’s Club after all. Or perhaps he just sensed a Democratic wave building in the distance, and chose not to disappoint himself yet again.

Like Many GOPers, Pawlenty Giving a 2018 Senate Race a Pass