‘Sam’s Club’ voters called key to modern GOP

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NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

The man who’s helping host the Republican nominating convention and is seen as a shortlist candidate for the vice-presidential nomination has a message for his party: Care about the Sam’s Club voter.

Tim Pawlenty, the two-term Minnesota governor who endorsed Sen. John McCain early in the nominating process, said the economic ladder is secure at the bottom and the top but that voters are looking for leaders who can help Americans trying to work their way up.

“The party needs to modernize,” Mr. Pawlenty told The Washington Times in a telephone interview Friday.

He stressed that modernization doesn’t mean watering down conservative principles but rather finding new ways to talk to voters who are no longer impressed by invocations of the party’s former leader.

“[Conservative principles] have to be applied to the issue of our time. I came of age during Reagan. I love Ronald Reagan. I think he’s one of the great leaders of history, but a lot has happened since Ronald Reagan was president,” he said. “It’s a party that has been looking backward.”

Mr. Pawlenty, 47, is slated to speak Wednesday at the National Press Club, where he plans to dissect the 2006 elections and the lessons his party can learn from the results.

He noted that the Republican Party adheres to the free market and must realize “we’ve been losing market share” and “our customers, namely voters, have been preferring the products of our competitor.”

He said the lessons haven’t been learned.

“There’s still a fair amount of denial over it, or at least lack of full understanding of it, but the country has changed a lot,” Mr. Pawlenty said.

He is making the pitch for Republicans to become the party of Sam’s Club voters, or those demanding value for their taxpayer dollars. That means talking about issues such as health care, a longtime Democratic stronghold.

“They may always spend more money on it but that doesn’t mean we can’t compete in the arena of ideas about how to get better value out of it,” he said.

He noted that the average worker changes jobs a dozen times and that voters may be attracted to a health care plan that would decouple insurance coverage from employers.

“This generation, my generation, and the ones behind me, are concerned about social mobilization. In other words, how do we maintain and preserve the American dream?” he said. “What are those steps we can take to help them up that mobility ladder?”

Asked about the gap between conservatives who advocate smaller government and those who say it isn’t the size but the efficiency of the federal government that matters, Mr. Pawlenty straddled the divide, calling for slower growth.

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