McCain, Pawlenty and the Minnesota GOP

In a New York Sun column Jim Geraghty takes a look at Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in the context of John McCain’s nascent presidential campaign. Geraghty elaborates on his column a bit over at NRO’s TKS. It’s an interesting column that makes one error. Mark Kennedy’s congressional seat was not lost to a Democrat, but rather was won by the formidable Republican Michele Bachmann. Michele’s victory along with the governor’s Houdini-like escape from defeat provided the thin silver lining in the gloom cloud that covered Minnesota Republicans on election night 2006.
JOHN adds: I don’t have the link before me, but I recall Michael Barone writing shortly after last month’s election that Pawlenty’s future on the national stage didn’t look bright. He noted that Pawlenty has been elected governor twice, but has never captured a majority of the vote.
I think Michael was a little too dismissive of Pawlenty’s prospects and skills. It’s true that Pawlenty won in 2002 with 45 percent of the vote. But that was in a tough four-way race against DFLer Roger Moe, the long-time Majority Leader of the Minnesota Senate–Pawlenty at the time was Majority Leader of the House–and Independence Party candidate Tim Penny, a well-respected former Congressman, as well as a Green Party candidate. Moe got 36 percent of the vote, Penny 16 percent, and the Green Party candidate 2 percent, so Pawlenty’s margin of victory was actually very impressive.
One thing that distinguishes Minnesota from most states is that our Independence Party has been a force to be reckoned with in recent years, especially in gubernatorial races. Jesse Ventura was elected governor on the Independence Party line. I haven’t tried to figure out when anyone was last elected governor with a majority of the vote, but it’s been a while.
In 2006, Pawlenty’s showing was admittedly less impressive than 2002. He gained around 46 percent of the vote and won by a one percent margin over Democrat Mike Hatch, Minnesota’s Attorney General. The Independence Party candidate, Peter Hutchinson, took over 6 percent of the vote and in all probability threw the election to Pawlenty.
That may not sound impressive, but Hatch was a formidable opponent and Republicans in Minnesota were absolutely massacred in 2006. They went from controlling the House to an 85-49 deficit. Except for Pawlenty, every Republican nominee for state-wide Constitutional office lost, including two incumbents. So it was no mean feat for Pawlenty to hang on in the face of a DFL tidal wave.
Besides, if memory serves, Bill Clinton never won a majority of the popular vote when he ran for President, either, and no one seems to hold that against him.
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