John Fund takes a closer look at Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty as a potential running mate for John McCain in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.  Pawlenty seems to be a good fit for McCain, Fund reports, both ideologically and in style.  Pawlenty may have already started proving that:

Being on John McCain’s short list for vice president makes Tim Pawlenty a busy guy.

One day last week began with a meeting on security for the upcoming Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., where Gov. Pawlenty will play host. Then it was off to Farmfest, the state’s biggest agricultural fair. Following that, a side trip to Iowa where, as national co-chair for Sen. McCain’s presidential campaign, he passed out tire gauges as a way of poking fun at Barack Obama’s suggestion the energy crisis be addressed by having Americans better inflate their cars.

The next day it was off to Washington, D.C., for a speech to GOPAC, a grass-roots conservative training academy, meetings with reporters, and a nationally televised speech at the National Press Club. If there is such a thing as campaigning to become somebody’s vice president, Mr. Pawlenty is doing a good job in the auditions.

Fund does a good job of getting Pawlenty into focus for those outside of Minnesota, but for those of us who have had ringside seats, Fund provides no surprises.  Pawlenty isn’t a doctrinaire conservative, but he’s been successful here with center-right policies that Minnesotans can abide.  In a state that simply will not elect outright conservatives to any state-wide office, Pawlenty manages to come close, and succeed through formidable political skills.

For instance, conservatives in the state castigated Pawlenty for breaking a no-taxes pledge to approve a cigarette “health user fee”.  At the time, however, Pawlenty had to face a newly-elected state legislature controlled in both chambers by Democrats (called DFL in this state, for Democrat-Farmer-Labor), and by almost veto-proof margins.  The cigarette fee was the only tax that made it through the budget process at the time, despite DFL insistence on a wide range of hikes.  He has mostly held the line on taxes and spending even when only winning re-election by 20,000 votes and having few friends in the legislature.

Pawlenty has had other faults as well, most notably for his support for cap-and-trade and for public financing of professional sports stadiums.  The latter was too popular for even Pawlenty to buck for long (he tried initially), and the former still has not stopped him from supporting the building of a new coal-fired power plant.  On ethanol subsidies, he has also played the populist card with corn farmers, a potential burr in the saddle for McCain, who opposes them.  

On the other hand, Pawlenty has remained resolutely pro-life in a state where that sentiment remains in the minority.  He blocked health-insurance mandates, although he supports a system similar to Mitt Romney’s in Massachusetts.  He also provided critical support for concealed carry laws, allowing Minnesotans the right to defend themselves. 

Overall, considering Minnesota’s Left-leaning tendencies, Pawlenty has provided an excellent example of pragmatic conservative leadership.  He gets underestimated by his political opponents at their risk.  He can campaign tirelessly and make it look effortless.  He understands the inside game, but comes across as the suburban dad he is, self-effacing and humble but with real steel underneath.  Pawlenty won’t be the first choice of conservative activists, but he’s a solid and perhaps potent option for a campaign that needs skill and energy at that position more than in recent elections.