ABC’s Rick Klein asked Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty today about his thoughts on New York’s 23rd Congressional special election, and found that Pawlenty has definitely had his interest piqued by the sudden national coverage of the race.  Earlier this week, Pawlenty — like most people — had paid little attention to the race to replace John McHugh, a moderate Republican joining the Obama administration.  Now, however, he’s concerned about the credentials of the GOP-endorsed candidate, and told Klein that he’s considering an endorsement of Douglas Hoffman:

Pawlenty, who’s widely mentioned as a possible 2012 presidential candidate, said he will “probably” make an endorsement in the race — and sounded as if he’s poised to support Hoffman over Scozzafava.

“As a conservative I’m concerned about some of the alleged issue positions that she holds,” said Pawlenty, R-Minn. “I want to  be fair to both candidates and look at their records. But there are some things that [I] have been told that you know, she holds dear, that may not be consistent with conservative principles.” …

But Pawlenty said that as far as he’s concerned, having an “R” next to a candidate’s name isn’t enough.

“As a conservative I am worried about some of the things I’ve heard in this race about how the person was selected,” he said. “It seemed to be a small group of insiders, as opposed to the party more broadly. But I want to take some time to get to know the records of these individuals before I make a decision about who to endorse or not.”

There is certainly some personal political calculation in this for Pawlenty.  He understands that his image needs some burnishing among movement conservatives after his flirtations with the global-warming movement and his long alliance with John McCain.  Endorsing a conservative against the Republican party establishment will build some credibility for both his Freedom First PAC and his eventual national run for the GOP nomination in 2012, or later.

Beyond that, though, it gives an indicator that even establishment Republicans have awoken to the conservative movement within the party.  Pawlenty’s endorsement would give them more momentum, more inside momentum.  It also builds Palin as a leader and an influence in the party.  It won’t have anywhere near the effect that Palin had on donations — which also says something — but it pushes the GOP to the right a little further.

All of that comes at the expense of establishment Republicans, perhaps none more so than Newt Gingrich.  The GOP bannercarrier miscalculated in both his initial endorsement and his continued defense of Dede Scozzafava.  If Newt had hoped to be part of the future leadership of a resurgent Republican Party, NY23 appears at the moment to be a Waterloo.

Update: Gateway Pundit says Scozzafava’s out of money.

Update: Redstate says Scozzafava may have some serious problems on campaign money and family.