|Pawlenty slams Obama from Iowa
By: Jonathan Martin
November 8, 2009 09:27 AM EST
|DES MOINES – Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty used his Iowa debut as a potential presidential candidate Saturday to excoriate President Obama and congressional Democrats for not doing more to address the still-wheezing economy.
“They should be focused like a laser on jobs, not acting like a manure-spreader in a wind storm,” Pawlenty told Iowa Republicans gathered in an exhibition hall at the state fairgrounds, criticizing Democrats for their efforts on healthcare and energy.
Noting that unemployment in October crested 10 percent, he mocked the Obama administration officials who earlier said that threshold would be breached only if Congress didn’t agree to the stimulus the White House called for, and received.
“As a senior aide to President Clinton once said: It’s the economy, stupid,” Pawlenty quipped, channeling the 1992 James Carville line. He proposed making some of the Bush-era tax cuts permanent and cutting the payroll tax and rates on small business and research and development to help bolster the economy.
Speaking for 30 minutes to a crowd of approximately 700 at a fundraising dinner for the Iowa GOP, the second-term governor touted the party’s victories in Tuesday’s gubernatorial races to argue that Republicans have begun to come back.
In the state whose first-in-the-nation caucuses have long made it a crucial stop for presidential hopefuls, Pawlenty took several shots at the Obama administration. Test-driving a new stump speech, he offered a reworking of the president’s signature call-and-response chant: “Are you fired up and ready to fight back?”
The polite Midwestern crowd, though, received Pawlenty with polite applause throughout his speech, saving their loudest ovation for toward the end of his remarks when he raised “the importance of thanking and acknowledging God.”
DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan, responding to Pawlenty’s speech, said that “It’s not a question of focusing on the ‘economy stupid.’ It’s a question of not repeating the same stupid economic policies that got us into this mess to begin with.”
While Pawlenty exhorted the crowd to help re-take the governor’s mansion here and in other Midwestern states next year, the governor, who is not seeking re-election next year, also used much of his time before a crowd of likely 2012 caucus-goers to introduce himself. He described his blue-collar roots as the son of a truck driver from South St. Paul and touted his ability to win in an historically-liberal state.
Plainly hoping to offer himself up as regular guy, Pawlenty took the stage to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” (even though potential 2012 rival Mitt Romney is in fact a “governor’s son”), recalled his deer-hunting expedition into northern Minnesota earlier in the day (where he said he pioneered a new hunting technique, “shoot and release”), decried the bailouts and made sure the audience knew that he was essentially from the neighborhood.
“Minnesota and Iowa have a lot in common,” he observed. “We’re a state that if you drive across the Minnesota border into northern Iowa, you can’t tell that you’re in a different state in a lot of ways.”
In another moment of heartland solidarity, he said: “Some people call us fly-over country.”
Going further than perhaps some in the Midwestern crowd are used to, though, the governor also noted that he was joined at the dinner by his “red-hot, smoking wife,” Mary.
Pawlenty’s visit came at a time when some Hawkeye State political insiders have begun fretting about the state’s relevance heading into the 2012 caucuses. With Sen. John McCain having won the GOP nomination despite a 4th-place finish here, the concern is that some presidential candidates may be tempted to de-emphasize or altogether skip the state.
“I think it’s a mistake to skip the caucuses and the reason why I think it’s a mistake because here is really grassroots democracy,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in a brief interview Saturday night before the dinner.
And if the appeal of up-close, retail campaigning isn’t enough to lure candidates back, Grassley noted the state’s track record of launching candidates to the White House.
“In one generation, Iowa has elected two presidents, one Carter and the other Obama,” he said. Both, thought, are Democrats.
Pawlenty avoided any mention of the cherished caucuses during his remarks, but after briefly addressing reporters following the dinner he stopped before getting into his car to say he hoped they continued to play a vital role in the nominating process.
“I think that’s a great demonstration of grassroots democracy that allows people to come forward in an open, transparent, grassroots way,” he said. “And so I think it has served Iowa and it has served the nation well.”
Earlier in the day, Pawlenty went even further to demonstrate his personal commitment to the caucuses, taking a series of steps that underlined his clear interest in running for president. Fresh from his hunting trip, and still clad in a blaze orange hat, he met with longtime Iowa GOP strategist Dave Roederer at a downtown hotel here. Roerder was the state campaign chairman for President Bush’s re-election in 2004 and McCain’s 2008 bid.
Later, Pawlenty was the guest of honor at a small fundraiser for the Iowa GOP held at the home of Doug Reichardt, a prominent local insurance executive and Republican donor.
And the governor had sought to sit down with Grassley in the afternoon but the senator had a scheduling conflict.
Though Pawlenty certainly didn’t light the room ablaze with his presence, he seemed to strike solid and familiar chords with the Republicans in the room.
“I think he is the profile of the kind of candidate who could be very powerful in 2012,” said Bill Schikel, a former state representative from Mason City who is on the GOP’s state central committee. “It’s a combination of his presentation. It’s what he says and how he says it.”
Though some in the audience said privately that Pawlenty’s remarks lacked a spark, most Iowans were either pleasantly inscrutable or laudatory.
Frank Severnio, a Republican from just outside of Des Moines who approached Pawlenty after the dinner to offer his support, was the most blunt: “He’s a fresh face. We’ve been there with Romney and Huckabee.”
|© 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC|