Tim Pawlenty in Iowa: Staying bland and playing it safe.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Aug. 10 2011 1:19 PM

Hey, Remember Me?

Tim Pawlenty fights for the spotlight.

Tim Pawlenty campaigning in Iowa.
Tim Pawlenty campaigning in Iowa

HUMBOLDT, Iowa—It became very clear, very quickly, what the media was looking for from Tim Pawlenty this week. We wanted him to tell us what Tim Pawlenty thought of the other people running for president.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

The governor started Tuesday with an 8 a.m. trip to a cafe outside Des Moines, then returned to the Capitol where he joined social conservative groups—the National Organization for Marriage, the Iowa FAMiLY Leader—at the launch of their Values Voter bus tour.

"I want to thank you for standing for a culture of life," he said. "I want to thank you for standing for traditional marriage. I want to thank you for standing for those values that made this nation great."

As he spoke, a platoon of handsome young people wearing orange T-shirts passed out fliers for Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, who is likely to announce his own presidential bid on Saturday. A lone conservative protester, John Strong, held up a sign attacking Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., for being too kooky. Pawlenty wrapped and walked over to talk to a few voters. A reporter used the lull to ask a question.

"What do you think of Gov. Perry getting into the race on Saturday?"

Advertisement

Pawlenty conferred with his spokesman, Alex Conant. "We're not doing a scrum," said Pawlenty. He walked into the campaign's temporary conveyance, a Winnebago Voyager unadorned by any campaign colors or logos or portraits. (There is a decked-out bus for the "Road to Results," but it's in the shop with busted air conditioning.) Back outside, after only four minutes of exposure, the few voters watching all this had shrugged.

"He doesn't have a lot of zap or enthusiasm," Strong fretted. "He reminded me of Bob Dole." Strong will head to the Ames Straw Poll in search of someone better.

The next event was all Pawlenty's—no "grass-roots" Perrymaniacs, no protesters. A library in Boone, Iowa, up I-35 from Des Moines, handed the campaign its meeting room, and it filled up quickly. Around 50 people, mostly older men, made their way past a table covered in TPaw literature (a picture of the governor in hunting gear; a smiling family photo with the "results not rhetoric" slogan) and vied for a small number of chairs. It was an ideal Pawlenty crowd, completely unconcerned with the flashier candidates, completely interested in beating Barack Obama.

"I'm not looking for pizzazz," said Len Schabold, a business consultant from the city.

"I voted for McCain last time," said Steve Lawler, a farmer who lives eight miles east of the library. "McCain could have won, maybe, if he'd had the right running mate. I think that could have been Pawlenty, to tell you the truth."

Pawlenty arrived and gave them what they expected. His stump speech consists of three or four moveable parts. Depending on how they're arranged, they can lead to something that loses steam quickly, loses steam slowly, or slowly builds into a raise-the-roof success. They all start well, with Pawlenty trying to convince the crowd that he's a schlub. The Boone version of the trope is a story about his wife giving him a pep talk about running for governor in 2001—"I'm Rocky Balboa, and this is my Adrian!"—that he remembered when he came into office.

"The job was very hard to deal with from a schedule standpoint, and Mary was holding me to account for my schedule," said Pawlenty. "We had a little tense discussion about that. I said, 'Honey, don't you remember? You're the one that gave me the inspiring speech in my living room to do this.' And she said, 'Yeah, I remember, but I didn't think you'd win!' "

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful, a new book argues.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Sept. 30 2014 1:23 PM What Can Linguistics Tell Us About Writing Better? An Interview with Steven Pinker.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.