The case for: 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.