PORTAGE, Mich. -- It's possible that Tim Pawlenty is days from stepping onto a stage before thousands of cheering supporters as Mitt Romney's newly-minted running mate. But you wouldn't know it from his swing through central Michigan on Wednesday, where the former governor appeared at nondescript campaign offices and addressed just dozens of supporters as they snacked on cookies and lemonade.
"Mitt Romney didn't spend his entire life in government," Pawlenty said to a small group of GOP devotees in Jackson. "He knows how to get jobs going."
Who will Mitt Romney pick as his running mate? NBC's Claire Leka reports.
Even after dutifully delivering laugh lines – like calling the president "all foam and no beer" – Pawlenty didn't escape "veep" speculation from his audience, with one supporter in Jackson asking him if he'll return to the state as vice president.
"I've been back to Michigan a fair amount," he demurred. "But as to the vice presidential thing, we'll know soon enough."
Devoid of the camera platforms and elaborate sound systems typically on hand for political celebrities' events, Pawlenty's appearances showed him to be anything but a campaign diva. When the fold-up table he was supposed to sit behind in Portage was in the wrong place, he helped to carry it to a more suitable spot. When a portable microphone in Jackson proved too loud for backers' ears, he ditched it over the complaints of reporters eager to record his every word.
"We don't want them to get the sound!" he joked to the crowd.
The trip, which involved an early morning flight to the Great Lake State and several hours of trekking in an SUV driven by an aide, showed Pawlenty's talents as an approachable and disciplined pol even as national reporters dogged him with questions about the vice presidential selection process.
Is he stopping by Romney's Boston headquarters on his way to his scheduled New Hampshire events this weekend?
"I'm flying into Boston and then traveling immediately up to New Hampshire to start [my] schedule."
Will he be meeting VP selection guru Beth Myers?
"We have a policy, the campaign just doesn't talk about the vice presidential vetting process."
How's the process going?
He rattled off the names of GOP up-and-comers, scattering in other possible Romney running mates including women and minorities breathing new life into the GOP: Susanna Martinez, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, Rob Portman and Paul Ryan.
"And David Petraeus," he added, perhaps a sly nod to a flurry of speculation that surrounded a now-debunked story on the Drudge Report that the CIA director was in the running for the job.
Widely regarded as one of the Romney campaign's most loyal surrogates, Pawlenty insisted Wednesday that there's no job title that motivates his determined campaigning on behalf of a man he once fought against for the GOP nod.
"The objective here isn't about a position or about some title for any of the candidates or the people trying to help. We are trying to get the country back on the right track," he said. "For me that's meant doing things like this as a volunteer where I can go out and speak on Gov. Romney's behalf in places where he can't be."
And many of those places aren't glitzy, politically or economically. In past years, Jackson has suffered a poverty rate twice that of Michigan as a whole. The Kalamazoo area clocked in for an Obama win of 20 points in 2008.
As Pawlenty wrapped up a brief stop at a strip-mall campaign office in Portage, his possible second-in-command competitor Sen. Rob Portman was wrapping up an (albeit smaller) event outside of Mile High Stadium in hotly-contested Colorado.
Still, the former governor of Minnesota has one psychological advantage that possible running mates Portman and Paul Ryan lack -- the experience of going through the lengthy vetting process only to be greeted with a "thanks but no thanks."
"In 2008, I was on some speculators' list as John McCain's selection for VP," he told reporters. "It's an honor to be considered. It's an honor for anyone to be considered, but also it has some deja vu qualities since I've been through it before."