Hey, why not Pawlenty for VP?

I’m 95 percent sure I’ve written about this before and rejected the idea, but darned if I can find the item now in the archives or remember why I didn’t like it. This is what happens when you write 18,000+ posts. (The only reason I know that figure is because today is the site’s sixth birthday and I was curious to check the total. I checked the number of Headlines too but will spare you that as it’s too depressing for light late-night reading.)

Anyway, Romney/Pawlenty. Why not?

Republican insiders say the first priority in selecting a running mate is to “do no harm.” Nobody embodies that mantra better than Pawlenty. He’s not an electrifying politician, but some of the traits that hamstrung him in the primary could be assets for him as Romney’s No. 2. The Minnesotan is steady and stolid, a reliable surrogate whom Romney could count on to skewer Obama without snarling. Likeable and funny, Pawlenty has governing experience, a bootstraps biography and an authentic middle-class mien that could make him a helpful envoy to blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt battlegrounds where Romney has struggled. “Every candidate I know tries to establish some roots in what I call real-world middle America. A lot of them have to invent it. With Tim Pawlenty, it’s real,” Vin Weber, who backed Pawlenty’s presidential bid before becoming an adviser to Romney, told TIME’s Michael Crowley last year. He would be viewed an acceptable choice for Chamber of Commerce conservatives as well as Tea Partyers and Evangelicals.

As a runner-up to Sarah Palin for a slot on the GOP ticket in 2008, Pawlenty has already been vetted. “In any normal year, Tim Pawlenty’s a great pick, a no-brainer,” strategist Steve Schmidt told McCain. Four years ago, McCain felt he needed a spark to compete against Obama’s historic campaign. This time around, with Obama vulnerable and early polls presaging a tight contest, many Republican insiders say Romney should play it safe. Pawlenty, who endorsed Romney shortly after dropping out the race last summer and has served as the campaign’s national co-chair, is as safe as they come. And while Beltway handicappers are placing their bets on Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Pawlenty is a Midwesterner with more blue-collar appeal and without the baggage of Bush Administration ties.

I think my objection to Romney/Pawlenty initially was that it would be the most bland, boring ticket ever, a personality vacuum in a year when O is looking to exploit the likability gap. But I was wrong. Romney/Portman would be at least as bland and boring as that, and unlike Pawlenty, Portman has no executive experience. His resume is solid — congressman, OMB chief, and senator for the past 15 months — but I have no idea if he’d be a solid exec or a solid communicator as president, which will be important in selling deficit reduction and entitlement reform to the public. Maybe that’s a simple matter of having not been exposed to him much? I’m more comfortable with Pawlenty because I’ve watched him campaign whereas Portman is a near-total cipher to me, but that’ll obviously change once RP is out on the trail. Even so, it’s not clear to me why Portman is a better “safe” pick than T-Paw on the merits. Is there any strong argument to prefer him apart from the increased likelihood of winning Ohio? (Which is a pretty strong argument, admittedly.)

One more question. With the possible exception of Portman, is it safe to say that Pawlenty’s better qualified than any other likely VP pick? Rubio and Susana Martinez are appealing but there’s no hard proof that they’ll significantly move the Latino vote, and T-Paw spent far longer as governor than either of them has as senator or governor, respectively. Christie comes from the same region as Romney, also has less experience than Pawlenty, and would be a risk to overshadow the nominee. As big of a Paul Ryan fan as I am, he has no experience beyond the House and might prove to be a genuine liability on the ticket depending upon how well the Democrats demagogue his budget. Pawlenty, I think, is the ultimate “do no harm” guy. So, why not?

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