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May 19, 2011

Pawlenty To Join Republican Presidential Field

by Jim Malone

In U.S. presidential politics, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is expected to formally join the 2012 race for president Monday with an announcement in the early contest state of Iowa.  Pawlenty’s entry into the race comes after two other prominent Republicans said "no" to a White House bid - former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and New York businessman Donald Trump.  

Pawlenty is little-known nationally but some political experts believe he could become a serious alternative for Republicans if the current frontrunner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, falters.

Pawlenty’s entry into the presidential race could stir up some excitement in what has been a slow-to-develop field of presidential candidates that currently includes former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

The Pawlenty announcement comes three weeks after the U.S. commando raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.  In that time, President Barack Obama’s public approval ratings have shot up while the Republican presidential field has struggled to sort itself out.

President Obama is already going about the task of firing up Democratic loyalists for next year’s presidential campaign, as he did at a fundraiser in Massachusetts.

“I want you to think about all the progress that we have made," said President Obama. "I want you to think about all the unfinished business that lies ahead.”

Analysts see substantial domestic political benefits for the president after Osama bin Laden’s death.

Political expert William Schneider appeared on a conference call sponsored by the bipartisan group No Labels.

“One of the problems that Obama had when he became president was that people wondered does he have enough toughness?  Is he enough of a fighter?  Well the elimination of Osama bin Laden proved to a lot of people that he did.  It is something that Americans want.  They want a president to be strong and tough," said Schneider.

In the Republican race, three high-profile contenders have bowed out recently, including former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, New York businessman Donald Trump and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

And some of those who decided to join the race are having some serious problems.

Former House speaker Gingrich entered the race as one of the better-known national Republican figures.  But Gingrich has stumbled early on by criticizing Republican congressional plans to reform the popular health care system for the elderly known as Medicare.

Conservatives slammed Gingrich for the comments and forced an apology.

“I made a mistake," said Gingrich. "We are at the beginning of a process of solving the entitlement problems of the United States.”

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has taken initial steps to join the race and he remains at the top of most public opinion polls rating the Republican contenders.

But many conservative activists say they are not excited by the prospect of another Romney candidacy and are looking for alternatives.

The confusion and uncertainty on the Republican side have some Democrats confident about President Obama’s re-election chances next year.

David Rothkopf served in the Clinton administration and is an author and analyst who appeared on VOA’s Press Conference USA program.  He says the prospects for Mr. Obama’s re-election are directly related to an improving domestic economy.

“Osama bin Laden’s death is going to be a distant memory in this election," said Rothkopf. "If, however, there is continuing [economic] progress and the Republicans continue to sort of fumble around to find an adequate opponent for the president, which is what it looks like right now, well, then the odds are pretty good that President Obama has a second term.”

But more Republican contenders could join the presidential field in the coming weeks.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin says she is still considering a White House bid, as is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

In addition, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman visited the early primary state of New Hampshire this past week and says he will decide soon whether to join the race.  Huntsman recently completed a tour as the U.S. ambassador to China.