MANCHESTER, N.H. – In Arizona recently, Tim Pawlenty courted a convention of Tea Party supporters with a passionate defense of constitutional freedoms. This week in Iowa, he wooed the religious right with a strident speech against abortion and gay marriage.
Tonight, the former Minnesota Governor presented another side of himself, to an appreciative gathering of Republican activists in New Hampshire. Meet Tim Pawlenty, the seasoned problem-solver, ready to tackle thorny issues and show America how to get things done.
``We’re not going to freak `em out. We’re going to show `em a positive and constructive way forward,’’ Pawlenty told a packed living room at the home of Ovide Lamontagne, a conservative Senate candidate who almost toppled the establishment Republican, Kelly Ayotte, in a primary last year.
Asked in a brief interview how all these sides fit together – the Tea Partier at the ramparts, the Christian warrior, and now the pragmatic chief executive – the likely presidential candidate said he wants to unify a splintered GOP.
``The conservative movement is a coalition,’’ Pawlenty said. ``I think we can pull the coalition together.’’
Pawlenty’s multi-dimensional approach seemed to go down reasonably well last night, although hardly anyone in the crowd of about 200, gathered around trays of barbecued meatballs and sipping wine, was ready to support a particular candidate in the would-be primary field.
Pawlenty mingled, posed for pictures, signed a few books, and soaked up positive vibes. He easily defused a sharp question about ethanol subsidies from Ray Shakir, of North Conway, who said government support for ethanol was not just a boondoggle, but also fouled the carburetor on his snow-blower.
Pawlenty’s face lit up.
Snow-blower, did you say?
``I’ve got a 15-year-old snow-blower from Sears,’’ Pawlenty parried. `` I blow the snow a lot in Minnesota.’’
Pawlenty’s wife, Mary, helpfully chimed: ``It’s 17-years-old, at least.’’
Pawlenty continued that coal and oil producers also get government assistance, and that any reductions in ethanol payments should be looked at in the entire context of energy subsidies.
In other remarks, Pawlenty boasted about how he stared down bus drivers in a union dispute and endured a 44-day bus strike. On Libya, he told the group: ``If there’s a plausible way to implement a no-fly zone, we should.’’
On the Capitol Hill budget crisis, he said a government shutdown could shock Washington into fiscal responsibility.
``Sometimes if you’re going to get something done, you’ve got to take a dramatic step,’’ he told the Globe. He noted that Minnesota experienced a nine-day state government shutdown on his watch. Media reports have said he opposed the 2005 shutdown before it occurred.
Pawlenty and the rest of the possible GOP pack are far behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in New Hampshire polls. The latest University of New Hampshire/WMUR/Granite State poll, taken in February, put Romney at 40 percent, Rudy Giuliani at 10 percent, and Pawlenty and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee both at 7 percent.
Rick LeVasseur, chairman of the Hudson Republican Town Committee and one of the curious Republicans who turned out to see Pawlenty, said Pawlenty failed to get his conservative juices flowing. (This despite a photo of a hand-painted sign on the potential candidate’s web site: ``Tea-Paw.’’)
But Pawlenty should take heart. LeVasseur said no one else in the potential lineup is conservative enough for him, either. He favors Sarah Palin and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
``Neither are in the field right now,’’ LeVasseur said, ``but give it time.’’
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.