From NBC’s Domenico Montanaro
If Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty embarks on a 2012 White House bid, his speech today in Washington D.C. could provide a framework for the message he would deliver to primary state voters later this year.
Kicking off his book tour for his new memoir “Courage to Stand” with remarks at the National Press Club, Pawlenty offered a pitch that was two parts biography, one part contrast, and one part vision.
The former Minnesota governor spoke at length about his humble upbringing in a scrappy suburb outside St. Paul, MN, the blue-collar tableau that gave rise to his theory of “Sam’s Club Republicanism.”
When he was growing up in the 1960s in Minnesota, he recounted, someone who didn’t finish high school had options -- a “fallback” or “safety net” -- by working a blue-collar job. “But as we all painfully know, times have changed,” he said. “Those strong-back jobs have faded away.”
Pawlenty also leveled measured cases against the Obama administration on everything from health care and the economy to foreign policy, and he outlined a way forward for the country based on “commonsense values that can get us back on track.”
The generally mild-mannered former governor seemed energized by a largely friendly audience and a press section full of national political reporters, testing out applause lines and appearing pleased with the results.
“Just because we followed Greece into democracy, doesn’t mean we need to follow it into bankruptcy,” he told the crowd.
Touting his tenure as governor of Minnesota, Pawlenty laid the baseline for why he believes he could do a better job to grow the economy than President Obama. He noted that in the “state of McCarthy, Mondale, Ventura, and Al Franken,” he reduced spending.
“If you can do it there,” he said, echoing Frank Sinatra, “you can do it anywhere.”
The unemployment rate in the state is about 7 percent, below the national average of 9.4 percent.
Pawlenty laid out what he sees as “common-sense values”:
- Money: He proposed increasing job growth by talking to private sector business owners and considering what can be done for their taxes, regulations, permits, worker-compensation and energy costs to encourage hiring.
- ‘Can’t spend more than we have’: He criticized President Obama on health care for failing to deliver on his pledge to make the health care overhaul bipartisan and focused on cost containment. “He broke that promise,” Pawlenty said. “That is not what he delivered. It is not going to work.” He said state workers need more “skin in the game,” so they will migrate to lower-cost providers.
- The U.S. needs to be ‘smarter’: He said that if the U.S. isn’t the biggest or cheapest country, “then we better darn well be the smartest. … You cannot have a successful society and have a third” of students not completing high school. He laid out his vision for education, higher teacher standards, for example, but then went on to lionize former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. “Everyone’s waiting for Superman,” he said, referring to the documentary on school reform. “We had a Superwoman. And her name was Michelle Rhee,” who he described as “dismissed.” (Rhee not keeping her job, however, is more nuanced than that simple explanation. The incoming Mayor Vincent Gray retained her deputy, Kaya Henderson, but Rhee was criticized for her approach, described by some as a “bull in a china shop.”
- “Bullies respect strength not weakness,” said the "Minnesota Nice" former governor on national security, adding, “We need to do it with voices of strength.” He criticized the Obama administration, charging that there was a “troubling trend” developing on issues of foreign policy, including missile defense.
Pawlenty, who was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart yesterday in New York, said he missed President Obama’s Tucson address because he was on a plane to Washington. But from the “excerpts” he read, he said, “From what I could see, he did a fine job.”
And he defended Sarah Palin, saying that some unfairly placed blame upon her politics in the aftermath of the shootings.
“In those early hours and early days, she was falsely accused,” he said.
Pawlenty was considered a front-runner to be John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee before he picked Sarah Palin. He reiterated today that he believes McCain’s choice of running mate didn’t especially impact the race. “I didn’t think it was going to matter who he picked as his vice president,” Pawlenty said. “Once the economy cratered, he or whoever the GOP candidate was, we would have ended up in the same spot.”
Pawlenty is thought to decide on a run sometime this spring, likely by around March. He said again today that he’s “seriously considering” a run.
Msnbc.com’s Carrie Dann contributed.