- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DENVER | The Mile-High City is the Democrats’ turf this week, but two Republicans topping Sen. John McCain‘s list of possible running mates are stopping by and honing their attack skills.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney made several media appearances Tuesday in Denver, heaping criticism on Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s political resume while repeatedly ducking questions about his own vice-presidential aspirations.

And Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an anti-abortion evangelical Christian who many Republicans say would make a near-perfect McCain running mate, is expected here Thursday.

Mr. Romney has played coy with the media over to his desire to be named Mr. McCain’s No. 2 - as do most potential vice-presidential candidates.

Mr. Romney, who battled Mr. McCain for the Republican nomination before dropping out of the race in February, said Tuesday he hasn’t had contact with Mr. McCain on the subject, but declined to say if he has been vetted by the senator’s campaign for the vice-presidential spot.

“I’ve got nothing for you on the VP front. I’ll leave that to the John McCain campaign,” Mr. Romney said.

In Minneapolis, where Republican Party officials assembled to hammer out their platform before their national convention next week in neighboring St. Paul, the star of the home-state governor has been on the rise.

Mr. Pawlenty’s pastor, the Rev. Leith Anderson, is president of the 30-million-plus-member National Association of Evangelicals. Polls suggest evangelicals made the difference in electing Republican presidents since 1980.

“Evangelicals specifically and conservatives generally would see Pawlenty as a good choice,” said former Reagan White House domestic policy adviser Gary Bauer, a prominent Christian conservative.

Mr. Pawlenty is 47 and a Catholic-turned-Protestant evangelical. Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Delaware Democrat and Mr. Obama’s running mate, is 65 and a Catholic.

The governor is to be the keynote speaker at a national conference of influential and mostly Christian conservatives here Friday, three days before the opening of the Republican National Convention on Sept. 1.

Yet Mr. Pawlenty, who considers himself deeply religious, typically doesn’t talk much about abortion or religion, and so is not considered an “in-your-face” politician of the religious right.

The two-term governor is surprisingly popular in a state that has not voted for a Republican for president since Richard Nixon in 1972 - the longest streak of voting for the same party of any state.

A new poll commissioned by Minnesota Public Radio and the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs of 763 likely Minnesota voters put him at a 55 percent job-approval rating, with only a 39 percent disapproval score.

His approval was 87 percent among voters in his own party and, another surprise, 59 percent among independents. Thirty percent of Democrats also give him good marks.

“Pawlenty is solid on taxes and spending, and good on defense,” said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.

Mr. Pawlenty stirred private grumbling among some fellow GOP governors recently at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington. Without coordinating his plans with them, he championed proposals to reduce carbon emissions as a way to fight global warming.

Mr. Anderson, his pastor, has long been involved in efforts to reduce global warming to preserve “God’s gift of our earth,” noted Andy Birkey, a fellow at the Minnesota Independent. Mr. Pawlenty named Mr. Anderson to his Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group.

Asked if he believed Mr. Pawlenty is “born again,” Mr. Anderson replied by e-mail: “I know Tim Pawlenty as a Christian with strong personal faith.” Noting the governor had served as a city council member and a state lawmaker, he said, “If you add in [wife] Mary Pawlenty‘s years as a district judge, the two of them have served in all three branches of government.”

Mr. Romney and Mr. McCain clashed on the campaign trail while running for president, with both targeting the other with negative television ads and confronting each other during debates.

In Michigan, renewed talk that Mr. Romney - whose late father, George, was a former governor of the state - could join the McCain ticket has Republicans excited a native son may return to the political spotlight.

“Mitt won the primary here, so there are a lot of Republicans who are committed to him. He has a large fundraising base here, as well as across the country,” said Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. “He was born and raised here; he understands the auto industry; and he comes from a prominent political family.”

Mr. Romney played down his past clashes with Mr. McCain, saying Mr. McCain recently invited him - among others - to his Sedona, Ariz., home. Mr. Romney said he came away “impressed with the man.”

Andrea Billups contributed to this article and reported from Michigan. Ralph Z. Hallow reported Minneapolis.

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