Earlier today, I had an opportunity to speak with Governor Tim Pawlenty, who spoke with me about his own record as Minnesota’s chief executive, the need to elect Mitt Romney in November, and give a description of what Romney should look for in a running mate.  Of course, Pawlenty has drawn a lot speculation about his own chances to join the ticket, but he reminds me that he was “on the short list” four years ago, too.  For now, he’s happy to make appearances and campaign for Romney as a volunteer.  “I think I can help him best in other ways,” Pawlenty told me, “but obviously, anybody would be honored to be asked to consider serving in such a position.”

We spoke about the economy as well, in a couple of different contexts.  “This is going to be an election about the future direction of America,” Pawlenty said early in the interview, adding later that the difference is “government versus free enterprise.”  Pawlenty didn’t bring up Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment, but Pawlentye clearly rejects that approach.  As the new report that poverty will probably rise to its highest level in decades demonstrates, “the economy continues to sputter,” Pawlenty said.  “The recovery, if there is one, is tepid and anemic.”  The economy simply hasn’t produced the jobs that keeps people from falling into poverty.  “We have the lowest rate of business formation in 30 years,” Pawlenty said, “and that and more adds up to a picture of economic challenge and despair.”

Bottom line? “[Obama’s] rhetoric, his speeches, don’t pay people’s grocery bills, don’t put gas in the car, they don’t pay the mortgage, they don’t pay for health insurance,” Pawlenty concludes.  “You’ve got to actually have results, and in this regard, he’s failed.”  Indeed, and that’s why Team Obama is reaching for every distraction they can possibly find to keep the election from being a referendum on Obamanomics.  Pawlenty remains solidly on topic, and that’s good news for Mitt Romney.

Addendum: Pawlenty’s website now only has a cryptic message of “Please come back later,” but don’t read anything into that.  The site had been funded first by Pawlenty’s PAC, and then his presidential campaign.  A source on the latter tells me that when the campaign officially closed, so did the funding for the site, and a staffer put the message up.  The message may be changed to something more appropriate just to avoid unnecessary speculation, but there are no more plans for the site at this time.

* – Using the media definition of “exclusive,” which means no one else was on the call at the time.