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Coleman Wants Pawlenty as VP

When it comes to coattails, it’s uncertain whether Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as the GOP vice presidential nominee would boost his fellow Gopher State Republicans in their Senate and House races.

But it’s clear that Minnesota Republicans want Pawlenty on the presidential ticket — if their presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), will have him.

Republicans concede that the Gopher State has been trending Democratic in the past few cycles: Pawlenty is the only GOP statewide officeholder who won election in 2006. But some observers say Pawlenty could add a fresh GOP face to the ticket next to McCain and could help Republicans carry his home state.

“I would hope he would be chosen and I’d gladly run on his coattails,” Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who faces a tough re-election contest, said in a phone interview Friday.

Coleman pointed out that Pawlenty enjoys approval ratings in the mid-50s at a time when that is pretty unusual for Republicans in the state.

A recent Star-Tribune poll conducted May 12-15 showed Pawlenty with an approval rating of 54 percent. The same poll, which interviewed 1,203 adults in Minnesota and had a margin of error of 3 points, showed Coleman, who is in a tough re-election contest against comedian Al Franken (D), with an approval rating of 45 percent.

Coleman said a Pawlenty vice presidential candidacy might bring more enthusiasm to the downballot races, including his own, and would capitalize on the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled for the first week in September in the Twin Cities.

“I expect to win this race, but it’s an added asset when you have a popular governor who is on the ticket,” Coleman said. “There’s no question that having a popular governor on the national ticket would add to the energy level.”

Democrats, however, say that Pawlenty would not help Republicans carry Minnesota and therefore would have no positive influence down the ballot in competitive Congressional races, such as the 3rd district contest to replace longtime moderate Rep. Jim Ramstad (R), who is retiring.

Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Brian Melendez pointed out that Pawlenty has never won a majority of votes in either of his statewide elections, getting 44 percent and 47 percent in 2002 and 2006, respectively. Melendez also notes that since Pawlenty took office, the GOP has lost a significant portion of seats in the state Legislature and now is in the minority in both houses.

“He has not helped the Republican Party,” Melendez said. “The only Republican who has done well on his watch is him.”

Geographically speaking, Melendez said, Pawlenty is not as popular in urban areas and in the far northern parts of the state in the 7th and 8th districts, currently represented by longtime Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson and James Oberstar, neither of whom have drawn competitive re-election challengers in a few cycles.

Pawlenty is from Eagan, which is in the 2nd district, represented by Rep. John Kline (R), and that is still considered to be one of his strongholds in the state. Kline has a Democratic challenger, but the race does not yet appear to be competitive.

One Republican operative, who declined to be named, said Pawlenty has always been particularly popular in the suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The 3rd district comprises the suburbs and exurbs west of the Twin Cities.

“That’s important in this situation because the suburbs on the generic ballot are trending Democratic because of the war, but he remains extremely popular there,” the operative said.

The same Republican also said Pawlenty has a track record of being popular in the southern 1st district, where freshman Rep. Tim Walz (D) is targeted by Republicans.

“By Congressional district, he would be extremely helpful in both the 3rd and the 1st to have on top of the ticket,” the operative said.

Even if Walz earns a second term, which looks likely, Pawlenty’s popularity in the 1st district could be a boost for Coleman’s Senate re-election campaign statewide.

In the 3rd district, the presumptive Republican nominee, state Rep. Erik Paulsen, said he thought Pawlenty would be a boost to his chances in a highly competitive House race.

“If he was actually on the ticket, I think it would help,” Paulsen said. “Particularly myself in the 3rd district. The governor is very popular in the third district.”

Paulsen is running against Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia (D), who said he does not look into the politics of this too much, but thinks his message would be more important than what’s above his name on the ballot.

“That optimistic vision for our country is what we want to communicate, and I think that it’s going to resonate with people and be more a factor in that race than the presidential ticket,” Madia said.

However, the 3rd district, which leans slightly Republican, notably has many independent voters that both Paulsen and Madia are seeking to attract. Paulsen said he thinks a Pawlenty candidacy could help voters link the Republican Party down the ballot, from McCain to Coleman to his own candidacy.

“I think he would help connect the dots whether it was myself running on the ballot with him, or it’s him running with John McCain,” he said. “I just think it’s going to help him with a lot of people.”

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