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Pawlenty's time with McCain cues VP talk

MINNEAPOLIS -- In a dance with national political implications being watched closely back home, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made several very visible appearances in Florida with potential Republican presidential candidate John McCain during a Rep...

MINNEAPOLIS -- In a dance with national political implications being watched closely back home, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made several very visible appearances in Florida with potential Republican presidential candidate John McCain during a Republican Governors Association meeting last week.

Pawlenty, whose narrow re-election last month was regarded as a rare bright spot for Republicans nationally, appeared on stage with McCain at a public reception that the Arizona senator sponsored away from the official proceedings. Pawlenty, who hosted McCain at several campaign appearances during his re-election bid, also reportedly rode with McCain to the event.

The appearances fueled speculation that Pawlenty might be considered for a vice presidential spot if McCain seeks the presidency.

The two have made no secret of their admiration for each other. Pawlenty lists McCain as one of his personal heroes, along with former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr and former President Reagan. McCain has described Pawlenty as one of the most able future leaders of the nation and invitedPawlenty to accompany him to Iraq.

McCain's appearance at the GOP governors' meeting was seen as a bold demonstration of his presidential aspirations, stopping in on the group when departing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another potential GOP presidential candidate, was hoping to use his chairmanship of the group to highlight his qualifications.

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Pawlenty told the New York Times that he intended to support McCain if the senator ran for president.

The National Review Online quoted sources as saying that Pawlenty is actively engaged in a McCain exploratory committee, speculating that Pawlenty could improve his stock nationally by coming out early for McCain.

In Minnesota, though, the buzz was more muted. Pawlenty's office declined to comment, saying it was a political matter. Pawlenty's campaign manager, Michael Krueger, who did not return repeated calls seeking comment, told the Associated Press that Pawlenty's support for McCain did not necessarily translate into an endorsement, since there are no announced candidates running.

Youthful and photogenic, Pawlenty, who after his re-election downplayed any national ambitions, is seen as appealing on the national stage, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"He can appear almost Reagan-esque. He's a solid conservative with a happy face put on it. He doesn't come across mean or antagonistic," Sabato said.

Also in his favor, Pawlenty may offer his party a chance to pick up electoral votes in a state that regularly has gone Democratic in presidential voting. At the very least, with Pawlenty on the GOP ticket, Democrats might be forced to spend more money in a state in which they might otherwise limit their effort, Sabato said. With McCain in the West and Pawlenty in the Midwest, the party could cobble together significant electoral votes.

Pawlenty will have abundant opportunities for national visibility in the next two years. He is assuming the reins of the National Governors Association next year, offering him a national spotlight and, perhaps more importantly, the chance to meet national fundraisers. In addition, Minnesota will host the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Yet Pawlenty remains just one of a host of names being bandied about by political insiders for a vice presidential slot that often falls to failed presidential aspirants.

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"It's too early to speculate for anybody who's sane, but that automatically precludes people in high public office and the candidates," Sabato said. "Another way to look at it is that we are only 13 months away from the [primary] voting."

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