With Huckabee out, Pawlenty's the populist in the race now

Pawlenty is both less vivid and more conservative than Huckabee. In Minnesota, he was a budget-balancing, anti-tax governor who presided over his own government shutdown. He received an “A” on the fiscal scorecard of the libertarian Cato Institute. Huckabee got a “D.” The former Minnesota governor was introduced at the 2010 CPAC conference by Norquist, who stated that Pawlenty had “governed as a conservative.”

But Pawlenty also governed as a reformer with populist instincts — an approach he calls “Sam’s Club Republicanism.” As governor, he raised education standards, supported the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada, agreed to increase the state cigarette tax, proposed subsidies for alternative energy and pushed for innovative, market-based health reforms. This agenda allowed Pawlenty to win (narrow) victories in a blue state. “If you look,” he has argued, “at the brilliance of Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln . . . they weren’t status quo people. They were change agents. They were populists — with conservative credentials.”…

In a general election, Pawlenty could return to populist themes with an ease many of his competitors could not. His blue-collar background gives him standing. His record as governor shows evidence of creative outreach — the application of conservative and free-market ideas to the task of increasing economic mobility. He does not view empathy as an ideological crime.