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Tax group calls Pawlenty 'pro-growth' but questions 'ideological moorings'

A powerful national anti-tax group offered Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty general praise on Tuesday but questioned his “exact ideological moorings” on tax and spending issues.

“After examining Governor Pawlenty’s record, we are reasonably sure that Governor Pawlenty would be a pro-growth President, but he will also probably be susceptible to so-called ‘pragmatic’ policies that grow government,” Club for Growth president Chris Chocola said in a statement after the group released a summary of the former Minnesota governor’s record on fiscal issues.

Pawlenty, who formally announced his 2012 bid yesterday in Iowa, is the second candidate to receive the Club for Growth’s white-paper treatment after former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

In its analysis, the group praised Pawlenty for vetoing tax raises passed by his state’s legislature but slammed his backing of a cigarette tax increase and called his record on regulation “deeply troubling.”

As governor, Pawlenty supported cap-and-trade policies, a stance for which he has since apologized and dubbed “a clunker.”

The anti-tax group also offered a mixed assessment of Gingrich earlier this month after the former Georgia lawmaker announced his presidential run. The club praised his contributions on free trade and tax reform but bashed his support for health care mandates as well as his temperament. (One particular ouch: Calling out Gingrich’s “penchant for condescension” in describing the former speaker’s endorsement of Dede Scozzafava, a congressional candidate opposed by the Club for Growth.)

“One could reasonably expect a President Gingrich to lead America in a pro-growth and limited government direction generally, possibly with flashes of real brilliance and accomplishment, but also likely with some serious disappointments and unevenness,” the club said of Gingrich.

In its new white paper out today, the club offered Pawlenty some wiggle room by noting that Minnesota is a generally liberal state; it went for Kerry by three points in 2004 and Obama by 10 points in 2008.

But that excuse, it added, only goes so far.

“We believe he would be a stronger pro-growth executive in a more conservative climate, but his ‘clunkers’ as he himself describes them are difficult to ignore,” the club said.

That analysis underscores the challenges faced by a Republican governor of a Democratic or even a battleground state in checking the requisite boxes for fiscal purists eying the GOP 2012 field.  (see: Romney, Mitt)

(By the way, the club wrote of Romney in 2007: "While his record on taxes, spending, and entitlement reform is flawed, it is, on balance, encouraging, especially given the liberal Massachusetts legislature. His record on trade, school choice, regulations and tort reform all indicate a strong respect for the power of market solutions. At the same time, Gov. Romney’s history is marked by statements at odds with his gubernatorial record and his campaign rhetoric.")