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Pawlenty gets singled out as McCain VP front-runner

ST. PAUL -- Sen. John McCain visited Minnesota Thursday, the day a prominent a political writer declared Gov. Tim Pawlenty McCain's No. 1 choice as a running mate.

McCain, R-Ariz., stopped in the Twin Cities late Thursday at the end of a day of long-distance sparring with Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

Much of the political talk surrounding the visit centered on Pawlenty, co-chairman of McCain's national campaign, who has been traveling the country in recent months on behalf of McCain and other Republican causes.

"We may be at the flavor-of-the week point in the vice presidential sweepstakes, but that flavor right now for Team McCain is the environment-loving, hockey-playing governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty," U.S. News and World Report's James Pethokoukis wrote Thursday.

"That tidbit is courtesy of a high-ranking McCain campaign official and reflects what I've been hearing of late among GOP activists."

Pethokoukis' comment came as Pawlenty continued to tell Minnesota reporters he has not discussed running for vice president with McCain and that he doubted he would be asked.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Brian Melendez said he wants to know if Pawlenty intends to resign as governor if he runs for vice president.

"As Minnesota has slipped further into recession, Pawlenty's 'aw-shucks' act has worn thin," Melendez said.

"Minnesotans have a right to know whether he's interested in sticking around to solve their problems or whether he has one foot out the door -- and whether he views the governorship as a full-time or a part-time job."

In spring 2006, when he announced he was running for re-election, Pawlenty told reporters he would serve out his second term. But he has been less firm on that issue in recent months.

Pethokoukis said it makes sense to pick Pawlenty or the GOP ticket, because he might lure Big 10 Conference states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania into the McCain camp.

Winning such electoral-delegate rich states could give McCain an Electoral College victory, while losing the popular vote, Pethokoukis said.

"Internal McCain polls show that adding Pawlenty, 47, to the ticket would help McCain win not only Minnesota but also the neighboring state of Wisconsin," Pethokoukis wrote.

"Both are close swing states. In 2004, John Kerry beat President Bush by 3.48 percentage points in Minnesota and 0.38 percentage point in Wisconsin. In 2000, Al Gore beat Bush by 2.4 points in Minnesota and 0.22 in Wisconsin."

McCain official Ben Golnik said the McCain-Obama race in Minnesota "is clearly a dead heat. ... Clearly, the upper Midwest is going to be critical."

Before reaching Minnesota, McCain took after Obama, criticizing the Democrat's decision to decline public financing for his campaign.

The move means he has freedom to raise more money than McCain if the Republican, struggling in fundraising, accepts the public subsidy.

The Arizona senator's campaign pointed to Obama's earlier pledge to accept public financing. McCain's campaign said a candidate should not back away from his principles, and Obama has said he strongly supports publicly funded campaigns.

Sen. Kerry, D-Mass., told reporters that McCain actually is running on private money this summer -- money gained from lobbyists.

In a conference call, Kerry said public funding only kicks in for the last two months of the campaign anyway.

At last report, McCain had raised less than $100 million, while Obama had more than $250 million.

McCain's Minneapolis fundraiser cost a minimum of $1,000 per person, with those giving $50,000 or more getting private time with the GOP candidate.

The Minneapolis fundraiser was closed to the public, and the town hall meeting was open only to those McCain had invited. Melendez compared that to President Bush, who appears mostly at events before hand-picked audiences.

Melendez contrasted the McCain meeting to one in St. Paul June 3 when Obama drew 30,000 people.

The Obama rally, where he declared himself his party's nominee, was open to all who could fit in.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.