Sitting at a local Manchester diner after having carried out the great first-in-the-nation primary tradition of hand-shaking and small talking with potential voters, Governor Tim Pawlenty seems at ease in the environment of retail politics that Granite Staters cherish. On his umpteenth visit to the state, the former Minnesota governor acknowledges, “my name ID is still low,” and he is still doing the hard work of getting known, both in New Hampshire and nationwide. However, he says that as he is becoming a more familiar face to GOP primary voters, he is getting an increasingly positive reception.
With prices nearing $4.00 at the nearby gas stations, and even higher elsewhere in the country, Pawlenty is harshly critical of what he calls President Obama’s “abysmal” energy policy, charging that the President has outsources his agenda to radical environmentalists and special interests. “My energy policy can be summarized in two words,” says Pawlenty, “more energy.”
When it comes to alleviating the current sky-high gas prices that are putting a financial squeeze on consumers and businesses, Pawlenty believes that Obama needs to send encouraging signals to the marketplace that he is moving quickly toward more domestic drilling, among other longer term fixes. “It would alleviate some of the pressure if he would be bold and aggressive and say we are going to open ANWAR, we are going to do more drilling offshore in the Gulf and other places, but he is unwilling to do that,” says Pawlenty, “so the market is building into pricing this uncertainty because of Libya, uncertainty in the Middle East, uncertainty because of what they see as a hostile president.”
When the conversation turns to health care, Pawlenty declines to take the bait about the controversial health care reforms enacted under Mitt Romney during his tenure as Massachusetts governor, invoking Ronald Reagan’s ‘11th commandment’ which dictates that a Republican should never speak ill of a fellow Republican. However, he pivots to discuss the recent federal health care reform law, calling ‘Obamacare’ “one of the worst pieces of legislation in the modern history of this country.”
Pawlenty keeps up his tendency to stay above the fray when it comes to the release of President Obama’s long form birth certificate as a result of allegations by so-called ‘Birthers’ that he was not born in the country and therefore ineligible to be Presdient. “There was no evidence that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States,” says Pawlenty, echoing a sentiment he has stated many times in recent months, and expressing his hope that the GOP field will quickly move on to more substantive issues.
One of those issues is foreign policy, or in Pawlenty’s opinion, the Obama administration’s lack thereof. Speaking forcefully and at length on the issue, he criticizes Obama for “dithering” on taking action in Libya, and waiting to sign on to a coalition mission instead of taking decisive action. “You cannot have the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, the Commander in Chief, say ‘Gadhafi must go’ and then have Gadhafi indefinitely thumb his nose at us,” he says, advocating for a more decisive approach to the conflict in Syria and others in the region.
Finally, Pawlenty speaks to one of the key characteristics that set him apart from the rest of the GOP primary field. When we note that the New Hampshire primary allows Independent voters to vote unrestrictedly in either primary, making it all but certain that they will turn out in droves to vote in the 2012 Republican contest, he stresses his credentials as the two-term governor of a deep blue state, saying, “You’re talking to someone who got elected and re-elected in one of the most liberal states in the country,” as proof that he knows how to recruit Independent voters and even Democratic voters to the conservative cause.
With eight or nine months left until the New Hampshire primary, the Republican field remains wide open. While he may not be a household name, this hard-working, mild-mannered Midwesterner has inspired a strong following among Granite State political insiders who think he just might surprise us all.
See below for full video from the interview:
Amelia Chassé contributed to this report