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A party split? McCain, under the bus

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
MIAMI -- At this afternoon's panel about the future of the Republican Party, Tim Pawlenty
picked up where he left off yesterday, delivering some tough medicine
for the party, calling for moderating the party's message and demeanor,
including McCain's.

"People don't want to just hear I'm against earmarks, and 'we need to
get back to things,'" Pawlenty said. That's nice, he added, but people
are want to know, 'How can I pay for college, fill up my gas tank,' he
added. "People are wondering, 'What are you going to do for me.' …
Enough's enough."

He criticized the Republican Party's perceived negativity.

"When did you see Reagan get angry," Pawlenty said, adding that the
1980s president was positive and strong. "People want to follow mostly
positive leaders; they don't want to follow cranks," he said, an
apparent reference to McCain, which was met with scattered laughs from
the crowd.

This came following Gov. Mark Sanford, who said, "There is going to be a big debate about what we're about."

There has been a focus at the conference on outreach tools and being outmanned by Obama via the Web.

"Outreach tools are important, but they're secondary to what the brand
is about," the South Carolina governor said, adding, that when John
Deere gets into trouble, it doesn't say let's build airplanes and boats.

Pawlenty seemed to swat that down, almost immediately picking up on the point.

"It's about substance, structure and tone," Pawlenty said. "We weren't even on the same level" as Obama was when it came to structure and tone, he said, adding that Republicans are "15 years behind" when it comes to technology and structure."

When it comes to the substance, Pawlenty has twice publicly said -- and several other times to reporters -- at the conference that the party needs more than a "comb over." He again during the panel also spoke of the need of expanding the party, of appealing to Sam's Club Republicans, proving fiscal responsibility by balancing budgets and helping lower the cost of colleges.

One thing that seems to be emerging here is a split between the Pawlenty, Jindal, Crist wing versus the Palin, Perry, Portman and Sanford types. (Though perhaps less so with Sanford). Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour remains a strong and reasonable voice, and appears willing to do what will win and keep unity.

It will be interesting to see on which side former eBay CEO Meg Whitman comes down if she runs and wins the California gubernatorial race in 2010. A member of the McCain campaign who traveled with Palin, she has defended her here. But ideologically, she seems like a prime target for a potential somewhat moderate, forward-looking, fiscal conservative alliance.

NOTES: Barbour posed to Mike Pence, who also sat on the panel, that once a month he'd like to see Republican governors go to Washington to meet with Republican Congressional caucus members to give input and hear what they are doing. "Would you be open to that?" Barbour asked of Pence. Pence said he would be. … On how to win over black voters, Crist said he has appointed African Americans, who are "even Democrats." He said it's about proving the party is inclusive.