Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty still will not say definitively whether he will run as a Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential election, but emphasized in an interview he wants no part of intraparty skirmishes criticizing Sen. John McCain and other potential hopefuls.
“I’ve known John McCain for 20 years,” he said Tuesday on The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show. “He has served our country as a person in the military, a prisoner of war. He’s a patriot. He’s fought hard for this country in the Senate. … The bottom line is he has served this nation with incredible valor and courage.”
Such a position distances Mr. Pawlenty, 49, from many of the Republican Party’s most powerful factions - including many “tea party” activists and media personalities such as Fox TV host Glenn Beck and talk-radio personality Rush Limbaugh. Mr. McCain himself faces a strong primary challenge from conservative talk-show host and former Rep. J.D. Hayworth in his bid for a fifth Senate term.
Mr. Pawlenty, who has endorsed Mr. McCain in his re-election bid, also refrained from criticizing another GOP presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, who as Massachusetts governor enacted a state-level health care reform that many Democrats claim resembles the one President Obama has just signed into law.
“We should just focus on what works,” he said. “If you look at the Massachusetts experience, clearly they expanded access [to health care]. But I think even the supporters of the program would acknowledge they didn’t control costs.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Pawlenty, a three-term governor not seeking re-election, said he has his own problems with Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul. He voiced support for an effort by at least 13 other states pondering a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the new law. But he added that only Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson can decide whether to join the suit and she has not announced her decision.
“I’m hopeful she’ll join, but I’m not sure,” Mr. Pawlenty said. “We’re going to have to consider other options if she declines.”
Mr. Pawlenty argued that the Republican Party must embrace the varying points of view to become a “majority, governing coalition.”
“It’s not going to be soloist for a while,” he said. “It’s going to be a chorus or a choir, and that’s a good thing. … All of these pieces are important. No one piece will carry the day by itself.”
Though Mr. Pawlenty is popular among conservatives, he finished in fourth place in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll last month for potential candidates. He was considered a strong contender to run with Mr. McCain in 2008 before then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was chosen.
Ron Paul, a Texas Republican and 2008 presidential candidate, won with 31 percent of the CPAC vote. Mr. Romney was next with 22 percent, followed by Mrs. Palin with 7 percent. Mr. Pawlenty came in fourth with 6 percent. Mr. Romney had won the last three polls.